Questions About LDS Practices and Mormon Life

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have some practices that might be unfamiliar to others. This page, part of my "LDSFAQ section," seeks to answer common questions about our practices and beliefs. This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and has not been officially endorsed by the Church.

Some other resources to better understand Mormon life and culture include the new Nauvoo Times, Meridian Magazine, the LDS Ensign, LDS General Conference, the Mormon Interpreter and the Maxwell Institute (the latter two cover for scholarly issues).

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Questions on this page:

What is Family Home Evening?

Family Home Evening is a marvelous LDS program that began as a concept from a prophet of God, President Joseph F. Smith, in 1915, and has since become a basic element in the life of millions of people both in and out of the Church (though it is often viewed as a uniquely LDS institution). The Family Home Evening concept is that each family should meet together once a week for a special evening together to allow family members to grow closer together and enjoy each others' company, to allow teaching of Gospel concepts to strengthen members of the family, and to help offset the many forces in the world that tear families apart. Those who practice Family Home Evening, as taught by the prophets of God for nearly a century now, find that children grow up more committed to good lives in the Gospel, that families stay stronger, and that husband and wives better fulfill their responsibilities as parents in this complex and dangerous world. The success of Family Home Evening is truly one of the fruits of divine revelation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have seen how it has blessed my family while I was growing up and my own wife and children now.

President Hinckley spoke of this important concept in the Church in his March 2003 First Presidency message on Family Home Evening, which I urge you to read and ponder. You may also wish to look at the LDS manual for Family Home Evenings (something many Mormons don't even know about, unfortunately--it's a great resource) or the helpful materials on family happiness and other information in the families section at LDS.org.

Why don't Mormons believe in wearing the Cross?

Here's our perspective: we worship the Resurrected, Living Christ. We remember his death and sacrifice each week as we partake of communion, etc., but we prefer to picture him as the glorious, living Lord. The cross is a symbol related to the dying Christ, while we prefer to focus on the Living Christ, the Resurrected Lord who conquered death.

Some LDS people also point out that the cross was an instrument of torture that to them just doesn't seem like an appropriate primary way to remember the Lord (though you may find not-too-gory paintings of him on the cross in some LDS buildings and certainly in LDS publications). But that's just one subjective view. I appreciate the significance of the symbol in Catholic and Protestant worship and respect its use.

As an example of how we prefer to picture him, see the images at Official LDS Web Site.

We also object to worship of graven images and feel uncomfortable with the way some people venerate the cross or statues of Christ or saints. That's not to say that it is wrong to have a statue or a picture, but they should not be objects of worship.

Some critics argue that we are not Christian because we do not use the symbol of the cross as they do. One can disagree with us, but that does not cost us our status as Christians. In fact, if we are excluded from Christianity for this reason, then the early Christians would also be excluded. According to non-LDS scholars, "In the first three centuries A.D. the cross was not openly used as a Christian symbol, for the early believers looked beyond the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, and the emphasis was not on the cross of suffering and humiliation but on the Promise of Life with CHrist here in the world and hereafter in the life beyond the grave" (H. Child and D. Colles, Christian Symbols: Ancient and Modern, Bell and Sons, London, 1971, p. 10, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, Aspen Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, p. 132). Also see "Jesus the Fish?" at ImaginalWorlds.org:

The earliest Christians generally did not use the cross as a symbols of their religion. (It's major emergence as a symbol of veneration came with the discovery of the True Cross by Helena, mother of Constantine, in a cistern underneath the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.) One of the earliest Christian symbols was, in fact, the fish, in Greek "ichthus" (ΙΧΘΥΣ), which formed an acronym for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior."

Thus, images of the cross were not an important part of early Christianity. Latter-day Saints and early Christians seem to agree on this matter.

Of course, even some modern Protestant writers make the same point. "The power of salvation, Paul says, is not in the cross, as fundamentalist evangelists have claimed, but in the resurrection" (L.J. Averill, Religious Right, Religious Wrong: A Critique of the Fundamentalist Phenomenon,, Pilgrim Books, New York, 1989, p. 88, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p. 132).

Do you believe that the communion literally changes to blood and flesh?

We believe that the communion is a sacred rite to renew our covenants with Christ and to remember His body and blood, His atonement and resurrection. We don't believe there is an actual physical change. I believe that doctrine was based on the Latin Bible, which some would later use to emphasize the "est" (is) in the Latin translation of "this is my body": hoc corpus est, drawing great metaphysical details from a highly emphasized verb that wasn't spoken by Christ. In the Aramaic language Christ spoke or in the closely related Hebrew, he would not have said "IS" at all but would have said something like "this bread my body." This can be taken as purely figurative. The important thing is that the sacrament of communion (which we simply call "the sacrament") is to renew covenants and to remember Christ.

On a related note, one Christian challenged me when I noted that I found little discord between the early Christian fathers like Ignatius and modern LDS theology. She responded with this statement from Ignatius in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 7:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.

She raises a fair question. In response, please note that the heresy Ignatius decries was not having the wrong metaphysical interpretation of what happens in the Eucharist, but the complete rejection of the Eucharist altogether, along with failure to pray. Very serious apostasy, not just an error of interpretation.

I don't have any genuine trouble with what Ignatius wrote on the Eucharist, though I assume he is using Biblical hyperbole rather than a literal physical description when he refers to the Eucharist as the flesh and blood of Christ. Biblical language often makes strong "A=B" statements when the linkage is meant to be figurative rather than literal. Since he has not explained what he means and how such a thing could be possible, we may wish to turn to other sources for guidance.

In Luke 22:19, Christ says "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me." What kind of linkage was meant between the bread and the body? The following phrase gives a key clue: we do it in remembrance of Christ. To me, that points to a symbolic representation rather than metaphysical transformation. Ignatius is using the language of Christ in saying that the Eucharist is the flesh of Christ, but this still leaves the huge question of what exactly is meant by that, since a piece of bread or a wafer obviously is not literally the flesh of Christ.

Perhaps the doctrine of transubstantiation was being taught in Ignatius day and perhaps that's what he meant. If so, I think there was a touch of error in his understanding of the physics or metaphysics, but I would agree with him that it is an important and sacred ritual and that those who drop it from their worship, along with those who abandon prayer, are in a sorry state of apostasy.

2014 Update: Information from Robert Boylan

Robert Boylan kindly shared some information he had written for a person who had a few questions about Catholic apologetic works on the issue of the Mass as a sacrifice and transubsantiation. Here is some of what Robert wrote, shared with his kind permission:

The Eucharist and Related Issues
by Robert Boylan, 2014

Firstly, you are correct to differentiate between Real Presence and Transubstantiation. One can hold to "Real Presence" but that, in of itself, does not mean Transubstantiation. As you may know, the first anathema against the Reformers at Trent was not focused upon Luther or Calvin, but Zwingli and others who rejected any form of Real Presence (they held to a purely symbolic view of the Eucharist). The second anathema focused upon those who, while holding to some belief in Real Presence, rejected the concept of Transubstantiation (the "Spiritual presence" view of Calvin; Consubstantiation in Luther's theology). One former LDS who converted to Roman Catholicism, Dr. Richard Sherlock, thinks that if "Real Presence" is true, that means the Catholic understanding of "Real Presence" is true; however, that begs the question, as I am sure you agree.

Among the works on the Eucharist from the RCC perspective I own and have read, I have read Pitre's book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, so if you wish to ask any questions based on this book or any of the other books you are pursuing, I would be happy to interact with such arguments. For instance, on the idea of the "Bread of the Presence," I am unaware of any evidence that this bread was transubstantiated, was worshipped as God (latria), and so forth.

Let me make a few notes; I won't get into huge detail, as there are too many texts and issues to discuss in a single email, but I will make a few exegetical notes, and some Patristic comments that, hopefully, will add some food for thought.

With respect to some of the biblical evidence for the Eucharist (the idea of Transubstantiation and it being a propitiatory sacrifice) that some RCC apologists (e.g., Robert Sungenis, Not by Bread Alone: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for the Eucharistic Sacrifice) have appealed to, I will focus on the "this is my body" argument and a technical argument that sometimes comes up from Matthew 26:28.

"This is my Body"

The phrase, "this is my body" translates the Greek phrase τουτο εστιν το σωμα μου touto estin to swma mou, literally, "this is the body of me." A rather technical argument has been made to support transubstantiation by some Catholic writers. The argument is that, as the demonstrative "this" τουτο is a demonstrative neuter singular, it cannot refer to the term "bread" αρτος artos which is masculine, but the noun "body" σωμα which is neuter. As a result of this, and the fact that it is coupled with the verb ειμι eimi "to be," Christ is teaching that the bread becomes the body of Jesus, with an alternative translation being, "this [new entity] is the body of me."

It is correct that the referent for the demonstrative "this" is "body." However, to read "is" in a literalistic way as to argue that Transubstantiation is in view in the narratives is vacuous.

In Greek grammar, there is what is called a "interpretive ειμι," wherein the verb ειμι, often in conjunction with τουτο or τι, has the definition of "meaning" or "[this] means."

Two notable instances of such can be seen in Matthew 27:46 and Luke 18: 36--

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli Eli, lama sabachthani, that is [τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν tout' estin] to say, My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant [εἴη τοῦτο eie touto]. (Luke 18:36)

A symbolic meaning of "this is my body" can still be retained, notwithstanding claims to the contrary. Furthermore, taking "is" in the literalistic manner that many who hold to the dogma of Transubstantiation, or something similar, such as the Eastern Orthodox view, results in some inanities if one were to be consistent in their approach to the verb ειμι. For instance, in Luke 22:20, both "cup" (ποτηριον poterion) and the demonstrative are singular neuters. However, in Catholic theology, it is not the cup, but the contents thereof, viz., the wine, that becomes the blood. Of course, just as "this is my body" is a literary device (the interpretative ειμι) and should not be taken at a literalistic fashion, neither should "this cup" be interpreted as being the [blood of] the new covenant; in reality, it too, is a literary device (synecdoche).

Was Christ's Blood shed at the Last Supper?

Many Roman Catholic theologians and apologists have used Matthew 26:28 as evidence that, at the Last Supper, the wine was transubstantiated into Christ's blood, supporting the Roman Catholic dogmatic teaching that Christ's body and blood are truly and substantially present during the Eucharist and that the Eucharist itself is a propitiatory sacrifice (e.g. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma; Sungenis, Not by Bread Alone).

The term εκχυννομενον ekchunnomenon is the present passive participle form of the verb εκχεω ekchew. Catholic apologists have argued that (1) εκχεω is a sacrifical term in the LXX, implying that Christ was teaching that the Eucharist itself is a sacrifice and (2) by using the present passive participle of the verb, Matthew is teaching that Christ's blood was being shed at the Last Supper. However, both these claims are based on eisegesis.

The Last Supper is a sacrificial meal, to be sure, and as a result, Christ would use sacrificial language, but it is done in memorial of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. There is nothing in the New Testament that shows the Eucharist itself to be a propitiatory sacrifice. Indeed, the New Testament itself precludes any "re-presentation" of Christ's sacrifice. In Koine Greek, the term εφαπαξ ephapax denotes a once-for-all action that is never to be repeated (Johannes E. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains, 2d ed. S.V., εφαπαξ) and predicates this upon Christ's atoning sacrifice and entering into the holy of holies:

For in that he died, he died unto sin once (εφαπαξ); but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. (Romans 6:10)

Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once (εφαπαξ) when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:27)

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once (εφαπαξ) into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:12)

By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (εφαπαξ). (Hebrews 10:10)

That the biblical texts do not support the Catholic belief that the Eucharist is a "re-presentation" of the sacrifice of Christ can be seen in Paul's teachings on the Eucharist. In 1 Corinthians 11:26, we read that the Eucharist is not a "re-presentation" of Christ but a proclamation of the atoning sacrifice and death of Christ. The Greek term the KJV translates as "shew" is καταγγελλω katangellw which means "to proclaim." What is significant is that this in the midst of Paul presenting in written format the oral tradition he received about the Last Supper, and uses other sacrificial terms such as "remembrance" (αναμνησις anamnesis) Catholic apologists have used to support the Mass as a sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11:23-25), and this would have been an ideal time to portray the Eucharist as a true sacrifice in contradistinction to the sacrifices to false gods surrounding the Corinthian church (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:19-21).

Moreover, there is a Koine Greek term meaning "the shedding of blood" which is used in the New Testament, but not used in any of the accounts of the institution of the Lord's Supper, the term αἱματεκχυσία aimatekchusia. It is used in Hebrews 9:22 (emphasis added):

καὶ σχεδὸν ἐν αἵματι πάντα καθαρίζεται κατὰ τὸν νόμον καὶ χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission of sins.

If Christ was inaugurating a propitiatory sacrifice, as Roman Catholic dogma teaches, a more potent verb, σπενδομαι spendomai could be used by the authors of the Gospel texts in Matthew 26/Luke 22/Mark 14, as it denotes a drink-offering/sacrifice commensurate with the contents of the chalice, upon the words of consecration, being the shed blood of Christ in RCC theology, but neither this, nor its noun form, σπονδη sponde are used by the New Testament writers when discussing the Eucharist.

As for the term εκχυννομενον, it does not have the meaning that Roman Catholic apologists have attempted to foist upon it. Firstly, Christ's sacrifice had not yet taken place, so there was nothing to "re-present" until after the cross. To claim that Christ's body and blood were transubstantiated before the cross leads to a representation of a sacrifice still in the future. Furthermore, the same structure of εκχεω is used in Matthew 23:35, speaking of the shed blood of the martyrs:

That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed (εκχυννομενον) upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

The present passive participle of the verb is used here, but in reference to a past action, not a then-present action. Often participles, even when in the present tense, are not in reference to then-present events, but past events and even future events, as seen in the works of many competent Greek grammarians (e.g., Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997), 614; Lynne C. Broughton, "'Being shed for Many': Time-Sense and Consequences in the Synoptic Cup Citations," Tyndale Bulletin, 48.2 (1997), pp. 249-70.). To interpret Matthew 26:28 as supporting a then-shedding of Christ's blood at the Last Supper necessitates one to hold to a then-shedding of the blood of Abel and Zacharias when Christ spoke these words to his opponents. Only by engaging in special pleading can one claim that blood was being shed in Matthew 26 but not Matthew 23. In reality, Christ's words are easily exegeted as being about a then-future sacrifice he would offer, something commensurate with the entirety of biblical theology on the nature of the Eucharist.

If the Catholic Church's dogmatic understanding of the Mass and the Eucharist are true, it doesn't explain texts wherein New Testament-era believers were said to refrain from drinking blood. In Catholic theology, the wine substantially becomes Christ's blood, and at the time of the Jerusalem council, the Eucharist would have been celebrated for a number of years, and yet, Peter's comments betrays such an understanding (Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25, etc; cf. Lev 17:11-12). If the New Testament church held to a change in the substance of the elements of the Lord's Supper, later defined as Transubstantiation in 1215, such comments are not commensurate with such.

The issue of Patristic Evidence for the Eucharist

As for the Patristic evidence, one must be very careful to read an early writer in context. For instance, many Catholic apologists who appeal to early Christian texts cite Ignatius' comments that the Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Christ. For instance, take this often-abused comment of Ignatius in his Epistle to the Smyraeans, chapter VII:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

Many Roman Catholic apologists have made an appeal to this work (and similar comments by Ignatius) as evidence that he believed in some primitive form, at least, of Transubstantiation that would develop into the later, dogmatic understanding as defined at the Fourth Lateran Council, and affirmed at Florence, Constance, and Trent. However, this is eisegesis of Ignatius. Ignatius was arguing against Gnostics, and Gnostics held to a docetic Christology, wherein Jesus only appeared to be mortal, only appeared to have suffered, and so forth, but in reality, was not truly mortal. It is against this early form of Gnosticism that Ignatius is engaged against in this letter who reject that Christ truly took "flesh" (σαρξ sarx). This is essential to exegeting Ignatius, but is rarely, if ever discussed, in apologetic works (e.g., in Sungenis, Not by Bread Alone, the author reproduces such quotes but without any comments).

To be fair, the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice does appear early in the Church around the middle of the third century, evidenced by the writings of Cyprian of Carthage in light of the developing concept of a sacerdotal priesthood. However, comments from previous authors conflict with belief in a corporeal presence of Jesus in the Eucharist á la the defined belief in Catholicism (e.g., Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 4.18.5 on the "earthly" and "heavenly" realities vis-à-vis the Eucharist) show that it was not unanimous among the patristic writers, notwithstanding the arguments of many apologists. Even Augustine, who seemed to have held to some form of substantial presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (see his comments on Psalm 33 in the Ambrosiaster (mis)translation of the text where David picks up his own body in a battle and Augustine paralleling Christ holding his own body at the Last Supper), was, at best for the RCC position, was inconsistent. In his comments on John 15:26-27, he wrote that the Church would be deprived of the bodily presence of Christ:

The Lord Jesus, in the discourse which He addressed to His disciples after the supper, when Himself in immediate proximity to His passion, and, as it were, on the eve of departure, and of depriving them of His bodily presence while continuing His spiritual presence to all His disciples till the very end of the world . . ." (Tractate 92.1 on the Gospel of John).

However, in Catholic dogmatic theology, Christ is corporeally present in the Eucharist and a consecrated host is to be worshipped as God himself (latria), as the council of Trent positively affirmed. There is clearly a difference between Augustine's comments on Christ's bodily presence and that of the modern defined belief of Catholicism.

Thank you, Robert!

Why do you use water instead of wine in the sacrament?

"If Mormons believe that Christ died for their sins then why do they drink water and not wine or grape juice? It is a very symbolic tradition and when you take out the color of the drink you lose the whole meaning of why Jesus died on the cross for our sins. And please don't tell me that water is drunk at communion because of a lack of funds."

The sacrament prayer explicitly emphasizes that the water (or pure wine, which can be used in theory but isn't in practice) represents the blood of Christ which He shed for us. No one can miss the significance of the symbol. The church has never said that funds are a factor. Rather, we have a revealed health code (the Word of Wisdom) which prohibits the use of alcoholic beverages, so we use something non-alcoholic.

A revelation to Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2-4) explained the significance of the materials used in communion before the Word of Wisdom was revealed. This was given at a time when the Church faced the threat of poisoning in the wine they purchased from non-members of the Church:

For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory--remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.

Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies;

Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father's kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.

Brigham Young once said: "I anticipate the day when we can have the privilege of using, at our sacraments pure wine, produced within our borders. I do not know that it would injure us to drink wine of our own make, although we would be better without it than to drink it to excess." (Sermon of June 4, 1864, Deseret News, June 22, 1864, as cited by Leonard J. Arrington, BYU Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, p.46.) Wine was used in the sacrament of the church in some congregations until as late as 1897 (Arrington, p. 46).

The concept of the sacrament has ancient roots. For example, Abraham partook of bread and wine with Melchizedek in a sacred context (Gen. 14:17-20). I recently received the following relevant e-mail from Rabbi Yosef, a non-LDS Jewish scholar, writing to the Jewishness of the Book of Mormon maillist:

The use of bread and wine is in fact Jewish and does predate the coming of Yeshua. In fact the sacrament ceremony is actually a mini-Passover sader. That's right, Yeshua's last supper was actually a Passover Sader, the sacred meal of Passover. Even today Jews partake of unleavened bread and wine as part of the Passover sader. Yeshua did not institute this, he simply explained the meaning of the elements of the sader.

The Qumran community also partook of bread and wine as part of their "messianic banquet" ceremony. This was before Yeshua's last supper event.

Finally the ritual taking of bread (leavened bread) and wine is done in Judaism on Friday evening at the beginning of each Shabbat.

Also by the way, you might be interested in knowing that the ancient Ebionites (an ancient sect of Jewish followers of Yeshua) who abstained from alcohol, substituted water for wine in their sader.

What are your services like?

LDS services consist of a main worship meeting called Sacrament Meeting, which lasts about 1 hour, followed by optional but recommended Sunday School services (1 hr) and then another 1-hour block of time for typically separate meetings for young women or men (ages 12-18), adult women (Relief Society - apparently the world's largest and oldest women's organization) and adult men (Priesthood Meeting). Instruction, singing, and activities for children under 12 proceed during the two hours after Sacrament Meeting, and are called Primary.

During Sacrament meeting, you'll note we don't have much formal liturgy, no robes or candles or anything fancy, but we have a meeting centered on the communion. In addition to prayers and hymns, after the communion ("the sacrament") there are typically two or three speakers who are usually just ordinary members of the congregation who have agreed to prepare a talk on some topic. Since the Bishop and other leaders are all unpaid clergy with regular day jobs, and sometimes are still learning the ropes, they might not always put on highly polished performances when they conduct the services. (Some say you get what you pay for, but I think we get a lot more!)

For us, being guided or touched by the Spirit does not lead to yelling or shouting. We seek quiet reverence and order in all our meetings, though we also encourage families to bring children, which often increases the noise level. If a baby gets very noisy, ideally parents should take the child out into the foyer.

I would encourage you to visit an LDS Church and attend a Sacrament Meeting. Look past the simplicity of it and the rough edges, noticing instead the joyful Spirit that is there - or ought to be there, when people are reverently worshipping the Lord and speakers and leaders are earnestly striving to follow the Spirit and the scriptures in what they teach and do.

How do you baptize?

We baptize by immersion. According to our fourth Article of Faith, "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Baptism anciently was by immersion (the Greek word for it in the New Testament literally means to immerse), and was performed for those who believed in Christ and sought to repent of their sins. (Indeed, the early Christian writer, Justin, said that the candidate for baptism was expected to make a profession of faith before being baptized. [Apol. 1, 61 ,3, as cited by Robert M. Grant, Augustus to Constantine, Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 1970, p. 280].) Thus, it could not possibly be infant baptism, which was a later deviation from the original practices taught by Christ. For a discussion of baptism and its importance, see my LDSFAQ page on baptism.

Baptism is performed no earlier than age 8, according to a revelation given to Joseph Smith. The age of 8 is given as the age of accountability, which I take as a useful estimation of the time when children typically become suitably mature to be held responsible for right and wrong. Little children, according to the Book of Mormon, are alive in Christ and cannot sin nor repent; thus, they do not need baptism. The power of the Atonement of Christ overcomes the effects of the Fall for them so that if they die unbaptized as little children, they are assured eternal salvation in the Kingdom of God.

Why don't you drink tea and coffee? Is coke allowed?

"We are also curious about the ban on coffee and tea. The alcohol we understand totally and could not agree on more ... but why 'hot beverages'"?

Good question. Frankly, I'm not sure. in 1833, when the Lord revealed the "Word of Wisdom," he told Joseph Smith that tobacco and alcohol were harmful to man. He told Him that grains (esp. wheat) and vegetables were good, and that meat was o.k. if eaten sparingly. So far all that accords with recent and modern discoveries about diet and health in a way that substantiates our belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. As for tea and coffee, the Lord did not specify which chemicals were of concern nor did he identify the undesired side effects or any reasons for the suggestion that these should be avoided. Modern science seems undecided on whether tea and coffee are seriously harmful, though there is reason to believe that caffeine isn't helpful to the body and can be harmful in some cases. But was caffeine the reason for the prohibition? We don't know. There are other chemicals in those drinks that raise concerns as well - tannic acid, others. Some people go the extra mile by avoiding caffeine in general, but that is not required of us at this time. Herbal teas are generally felt to be o.k. if they are not based on black tea. As to cola drinks, I avoid caffeinated beverages myself, but that's a personal decision. In general, we should avoid harmful influences in diet and stay healthy.

Recently, a supportive parents whose daughter joined the Latter-day Saints wrote me to ask if she was some kind of sinner for drinking coffee. Her sweet but zealous daughter apparently was having a hard time with Mom being a coffee drinker, though Mom was a good Christian of another faith. Here is an excerpt from my reply:

Is it wrong for you to drink coffee? Let me ask this: have you made a covenant with the Lord not to drink it? Probably not. There may be some health or spiritual consequences to drinking it that we don't fully appreciate at this time, but if you are not a member of the Church and have not made a promise to God not to drink it, then I can think of no reason why it would be morally wrong for you to do so, apart from possible and not fully understood health consequences. For those of us who have agreed not to drink coffee, it is wrong to do so, but we must be very careful to tolerate others who have not made this covenant. (Smoking, on the other hand, is clearly stupid and dangerous - but we should still be tolerant of smokers.)

My advice to your zealous and undoubtedly wonderful daughter is to be easy on her mother. Remind her that many Mormons eat pork, which used to be forbidden by an earlier version of the Lord's health code. Many Jews see it as a sin to eat pork, and that's fine, but since we aren't subject to that older covenant, it's not necessarily wrong for us to eat pork, though it's probably got more adverse health consequences than coffee does (just guessing). You could bring this argument up with your daughter as she's enjoying a nice bacon and eggs breakfast that you've prepared for her, or a ham sandwich.

What is the Latter-day Saint practice of fasting?

"Why exactly is it that my Mormon friend would tell me that she is fasting? Is fasting a way of atonement, or is it related to the time of year?"

Fasting is beautifully described in Isaiah 58 and a few places in the New Testament. The principle is that we go without food and water for, say, 24 hours, to focus on the spiritual while controlling the natural body. Fasting is combined with prayer and pondering. Doing this regularly (at least once a month) allows us to maintain control over our bodies and to strengthen our spiritual life (worship of God, focus on things of eternal value, etc.). Further, the law of the fast is part of caring for the poor (as the Isaiah passage describes in verses 6 and 7). In LDS practice, the money that is saved by not eating (plus much more, if possible) is given to a special fund ("fast offerings") used only for the care of the poor (0% overhead). That fund is administered in confidence by the Bishop, who strives to help the needy in many ways. This principle of the fast allows those who have to help those who don't in a way that encourages compassionate sacrifices, strengthens the bonds of fellowship in the Church, preserves the dignity of the poor, and fosters spirituality for all who follow these inspired teachings.

On the first Sunday of each month, Latter-day Saint congregations usually have "Fast Sunday" in which all are encouraged to fast. The sacrament meeting service is called "Fast and Testimony Meeting." After the sacrament (communion) has been distributed, members of the congregation are allowed to speak as they wish to bear witness of the Savior and to share their testimony of His Gospel. This is done instead of having assigned speakers as is normally the case for regular sacrament meeting services.

Through fasting, we should be closer to the Spirit and best able to strengthen each other and share in the fruits of the Spirit as we bear testimony of the Gospel. We are taught to abstain from the things of the world during this time and to seek purity and spirituality as we draw close to the Spirit. And again, the LDS practice of fasting increases our concern for the needy and provides resources to help them.

Now we know that early Christians fasted, but the Bible offers few details about how they fasted. It is understandable that in the absence of such revelation, there are many diverse forms of fasting among modern Christians, including practices such as doing without red meat on certain days, or giving up a favorite food for period of time, or just ignoring the issue altogether. But what did the earliest Christians do, and how does that related to LDS religion, which claims to be a restoration of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Insight into early Christian practices comes from a book that was accepted as scripture by many early Christians in the second and third centuries, but which was dropped from the canon by later Christian leaders. The book is the Shepherd of Hermas, apparently written in Italy written shortly after the apostolic era. In this book, Hermas receives revelation in the form of visions and parables about Christian religion and practices, including baptism for the dead (see my LDSFAQ page, Baptism for the Dead) and the principle of fasting. John W. Welch in "Fasting in Earliest Christianity" (Insights, Vol. 21, No. 9, 2001, a publication of the Maxwell Institute) summarizes the teachings from the Shepherd of Hermas, Parable 5, about how to fast. Hermas is told:

1. You are first to "guard against every evil word and every evil desire, and cleanse your heart of all the vanities of this world."

2. Then you must "estimate the cost of the food you would have eaten on that day on which you intend to fast, and give it to a widow or an orphan or someone in need."

3. Moreover, "you must observe these things with your children and your whole household and in observing them you will be blessed [makarioi]."

4. Furthermore, those who receive fast offerings are to pray "on behalf of [hyper]" those who have extended their generosity in this way.

"This fast," the Christian is told, "is very good in keeping the Lord's commandments," and if you will do these things, "this fast of yours will be perfect [teleia]" and "your sacrifice will be acceptable in God's sight, and this fast will be recorded, and service performed in this way is beautiful and joyous" (compare perfect and rejoicing in D&C 59:13-14).

These principles are in remarkable accord with Latter-day Saint practices, as revealed to modern prophets. Welch offers further analysis:

If these directives may be described as the true order of fasting, it is evident that few Christian churches today follow this essential instruction. Is it possible that this was one of the "plain and precious things" taken away from the original gospel as it went forth from the mouth of the Son of God as foreseen by Nephi of old (1 Nephi 13:28)? But Nephi also beheld that some of those truths would be restored by "other books" that would come forth "from the Gentiles" (1 Nephi 13:39).

Interestingly, the Old Latin version of the Shepherd of Hermas was first published in 1873 in Germany, and with the study of the crucial Greek text in Codex Siniaticus in the late nineteenth century, people soon realized the great antiquity of this important document. Yet only the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as far as we know, teaches and actually operates a regular program of fasting along these earliest Christian lines.

What is "home teaching"? Is it like home schooling?

It's not home schooling, but a revealed system for priesthood holders to serve other families and individuals in their congregations by visiting them regularly and working to help them in numerous ways. It's part of becoming a united community of saints, fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God (Eph. 2:18-20). In one common scenario, an adult Melchizedek Priesthood holder and a younger Aaronic Priesthood holder (a Teacher or a Priest, often age 14-18) may be assigned as companions to visit perhaps three or four families. They should go monthly and see how the family is doing, provide a spiritual thought or lesson, or provide service. Good home teachers really bless the lives of their people, but it's always a challenge getting members to really live up to the potential of the sacred calling of home teacher.

A basic discussion can be found in the article "Home Teaching" by R. Wayne Boss in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2:

Each ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigns priesthood holders as home teachers to visit the homes of members every month. They go in pairs. . . . The home teaching program is a response to modern revelation commissioning those ordained to the priesthood to:

"teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church . . . and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties, . . . to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; and see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking. . . ." [D&C 20:42-54]

In 1987 Church President Ezra Taft Benson identified three basic guidelines to be followed by home teachers:

First, Church leaders are to encourage home teachers to know as well as possible the people they are called to teach. Home teachers need to be aware of individual attitudes, interests, and general Welfare, working closely with the head of each family to meet the family's temporal and spiritual needs.

Second, the Church expects home teachers to deliver a short monthly message. When possible, messages are to come from the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. Leaders are to instruct home teachers to prepare intellectually and spiritually, giving prayerful consideration to both the temporal and spiritual needs of each family as they prepare lessons. The companionship of the Holy Ghost is essential for successful home teaching, for "if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach" (D&C 42:14). The Church instructs home teachers, therefore, to pray together before each visit, invoking the blessings of the Lord upon the family, and, where possible, to pray with family members at the conclusion of the visit.

Third, home teachers are to magnify their callings (Jacob 1:19) by rendering devoted service. This includes visiting each family early in the month, by appointment, and making additional visits as needed.

Organizationally, home teaching provides a system for effective Churchwide communication. Through stakes, wards, and home teachers, Church leaders have a direct line to every member and have the potential, if necessary, to communicate quickly with the total Church membership, via the local priesthood leaders.

Effective home teaching makes significant contributions to members' lives. Alert, insightful home teachers find various ways of rendering service, such as providing recognition for achievements; informing families of Church activities; assisting during family emergencies, including illness or death; strengthening and encouraging less active members; and arranging transportation. They serve as resources and share the burden of support that would otherwise be carried by the bishop.

What does "sealing" mean?

(This question comes from a person who did genealogy work at an LDS-sponsored Family History Center and noted that the LDS records for an ancestor said that the person has been "sealed" and that information had come from the "extraction program.")

"Sealing" means that a vicarious or proxy temple marriage ceremony was performed in their behalf to give them the opportunity to be together as a family in the eternities, if they wish to accept the temple blessings of the Gospel.

We wish to extend the opportunity to accept these blessings to every person who has lived. This is part of the motivation for the tremendous genealogy program of the Church. Typically, direct descendants of a deceased family will arrange to have temple work done for them, but work is also done for others for whom we have records. The necessary information is "extracted" from civic or historical records and sent to the temple to enable vicarious temple work - including baptism - to be performed. The work has validity only if the parties so served wish to accept it. Please see my page on baptism for the dead at "http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_BaptDead.shtml".

Here is a relevant article from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 3:

"Temple Sealings" by Paul V. Hyer

A "sealing," as a generic term, means the securing, determining, or establishment of a bond of legitimacy. Among members of the Church sealing refers to the marriage of a husband and wife and to the joining together of children and parents in relationships that are to endure forever. This special type of sealing of husband and wife in marriage is referred to as "eternal marriage" or "celestial marriage." It contrasts with civil and church marriages, which are ceremonies recognized only by earthly authority and are only for the duration of mortal life.

The sealing together of husband, wife, and children in eternal family units is the culminating ordinance of the priesthood, to which all others are preparatory. It must be performed by one holding the sealing power and today in an LDS temple dedicated to God. The Savior referred to this sealing power when he gave his apostle Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, saying that "whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). In modern times this sealing authority was restored to the earth in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, by the prophet Elijah, who was the ancient custodian of this power (D&C 110:13-16).

Both ancient and modern prophets have observed that if families are not sealed together in eternal units--if the hearts of the children and the fathers are not turned to each other (as alluded to in Malachi 4:5-6)--then the ultimate work and glory of God are not attained and the highest purposes of the creation of the earth are not achieved. "For we without them [ancestors or progenitors] cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect" (D&C 128:16-18).

To Latter-day Saints, the spirit world is as real as this world. By divine mandate, temple sealings are not only available to living persons, but are extended also to the deceased progenitors of a family through proxy ordinances performed in the temples. This process is known as salvation of the dead. Children born to parents who have been sealed in the temple are born in the covenant and thus are bonded to their parents for eternity without a separate ordinance of sealing.

To receive temple sealing ordinances, Church members must receive a temple recommend from a proper Church authority attesting that they are living prescribed Church standards. They then visit a temple and receive initiatory ordinances and the blessing referred to as the temple Endowment. This entails the receipt of instruction and being put under covenant to obey eternal laws set forth by God, which, as observed, will ensure a superior standard of morality, marriage, and family life. The sealing ordinances can then be administered, the full benefit of which can be secured only by continued obedience to the divine laws set forth in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A sealing ceremony is an inspiring and solemn ordinance performed in specially designated and dedicated rooms of a temple. The couple to be married or the family to be sealed kneel at an altar. The officiator is one who has received the sealing power under the highest priesthood authority in the Church. . . .

For members of the Church, sealings endow life with greater purpose and give marriage a sense of divine partnership with spiritual safeguards. Bringing children into the world becomes a divinely inspired stewardship. Sealings can sustain a family in life and console them in death. They establish continuity in life, here and hereafter.

Bibliography

Derrick, Royden G. In Temples in the Last Days, chap. 3. Salt Lake City, 1988.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation, 2:119. Salt Lake City, 1954-1956.
Talmage, James E. The House of the Lord, pp. 84-91. Salt Lake City, 1976.

Here is part of a related article is "Sealing Power" by David Yarn:

Signets and seals have been used from early antiquity to certify authority. The word "seal" appears many times in the scriptures. Jesus Christ was "sealed" by God the Father (John 6:27), and Paul reminded ancient Saints that God had anointed and sealed them (2 Cor. 1:21-22) and told others they "were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest [assurance] of our inheritance until the redemption" (Eph. 1:13-14). John spoke of the servants of God being sealed in their foreheads (Rev. 7:3). In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas (verse 131), Thomas prayed that he and his wife and daughter "May receive the seal" and "become servants of the true God." Even today licenses, diplomas, legal documents, and the like bear seals that officially attest to their authenticity.

For Latter-day Saints, the ultimate sealing power is the priesthood power given to authorized servants of the Lord to perform certain acts on earth and have them recognized (sealed) or validated in heaven. They believe it is this authority the Lord Jesus Christ described when he said to Peter, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19).

The President of the Church holds and exercises the keys of sealing on earth. When a man is ordained an apostle and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sealing is one of the powers bestowed upon him. Other General Authorities of the Church, the presidencies of temples, and a limited number of officiators in each temple receive this sealing power during their tenure. After one is approved by the First Presidency to receive the sealing power, the President of the Church, one of his counselors, or a member of the Twelve Apostles specifically designated by the President confers the sealing power upon him by the laying on of hands. This is the specific authority to perform the temple sealing ordinances.

Christ said that "in secret have I said nothing" (John 18:20), so isn't the idea of secret temple ceremonies contrary to the Gospel?

No, LDS Temple practices are remarkably Biblical and provide evidence that important practices of early Christianity have been restored today. The evidence for a restoration from early Christianity is provided in part by Barry Robert Bickmore's excellent book, Restoring the Ancient Church (Ben Lomand, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999), now available online at FAIRLDS.org, which is used for much of the following comments for this answer.

While Christ's teachings may have been essentially public before the Crucifixion, shortly before then he told his Apostles that He had "many things" more to teach them that they were not yet able to receive (John 16:12). These teachings undoubtedly include what He taught them during His 40-day ministry after the Resurrection. Of that ministry, all we have recorded is thee statement in Acts 1:1-3 that He showed Himself alive to the apostles after the Crucifixion "by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of he things pertaining to the kingdom of God." This ministry was not public and His teachings from then have not been recorded. An extensive Christian tradition exists holding that sacred and secret doctrines were taught during those 40 days.

But even during His mortal ministry, there were teachings that appear to have been given exclusively to the Apostles and not the public at large. Professor Joachim Jeremias in The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966, pp. 125-130, as cited by Bickmore, p. 292) explains that Christ gave a variety of esoteric teachings to a very limited audience. For example, predictions of his own death were not given publicly but only to his close disciples (Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10: 32-34). The same holds for predictions of the end of the world (Mark 13:3). And many teachings were done in enigmatic terms or through parables where the deeper meaning would be available only to those had "ears to hear" (Matt. 9:15) or were "able to receive" (Matt. 19:12). In fact, Jeremias goes on to say that Jesus hinted at secret teachings that would be disclosed later (Matt. 10:27, Mark 4:22), doctrines which Paul may have referred to when he spoke of the "mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1), the "hidden wisdom of God in a mystery" (1 Cor. 2:6-7), or doctrines that some Christians, though they had been Christians for years, were not yet able to bear (1 Cor. 3:2) (see Jeremias, pp. 130-132). Paul's analogy of feeding milk before meat in 1 Cor. 3:2 applies very well to the modern LDS view of the temple as well.

Barry Bickmore provides extensive evidence from early Christianity that hidden truths and mysteries were an important part of Christianity. These esoteric teachings were given to the disciples privately and were kept secret from the world. (See, for example, the comments of Peter in the Clementine Homilies, 19:20 in ANF 8:336, and the Clementine Recognitions 2:4 and 3:1 in ANF 8:98 and 8:117, respectively.) Some knowledge of these secret teachings continued at least into the second century, for Ignatius of Antioch spoke of heavenly things that he feared to disclose to the Roman Christians lest they would not be able to receive it (Romans 9 in ANF 1:104).

The existence of secret teachings and ceremonies in early Christianity was a focal point for attacks by early anti-Christians, as it is today for their modern anti-Mormon counterparts. Celsus, a leading anti-Christian demagogue and agitator (and expert in the tactics so typical of modern anti-Mormons), made strong accusations along these lines. But Origen defended the faith, explaining that Christians weren't the only ones having esoteric doctrines:

In these circumstances, to speak of the Christian doctrine as a secret system, is altogether absurd.But that there should be certain doctrines, not made known to the multitude, which are (revealed) after the exoteric ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and others esoteric.
(Against Celsus, 1:7, in ANF 4:399, as cited by Bickmore, p. 296. )

But Origen distinguished initiation in the esoteric pagan systems with the esoteric aspects of Christianity in the higher demands of worthiness for the Christian:

[W]hoever is pure not only from all defilement, but from what are regarded as the less transgressions, let him be boldly initiated in the mysteries of Jesus, which properly are made known only to the holy and pure. The initiated of Celsus accordingly says, "Let him whose soul is conscious of no evil come." But he who acts as initiator, according to the precepts of Jesus, will say to those who have been purified in heart, "He whose soul has, for a long time, been conscious of no evil, and especially since he yielded himself to the healing of the word, let such an one hear the doctrines which were spoken in private by Jesus to His genuine disciples." Therefore in the comparison which he institutes between the procedure of the initiators into the Grecian mysteries, and the teachers of the doctrine of Jesus, he does not know the difference between inviting the wicked to be healed, and initiating those already purified into the sacred mysteries.
(Against Celsus, 3:60, in ANF 4:488, as cited by Bickmore, p. 296. )

There is much of value in the above quote from Origen. We learn that the Christians did have initiation ceremonies involving sacred mysteries taught privately by Christ to the disciples, and that those receiving these mysteries had to live high standards of personal worthiness and do so for a long time. This is remarkably similar to LDS practices. The temple is viewed as a sacred place with knowledge reserved for the pure. Temple recommends require interviews with two priesthood leaders, such as a bishop and a stake president, who determine if the candidate has been living high standards and keeping basic commandments of the Gospel. New converts must wait at least one year prior to being able to receive their Endowment in the temple, and extensive preparation is expected on the part of candidates.

Say, how do anti-Mormons explain the remarkable parallels between early Christian esoteric practices and the modern LDS approach? It's a question worth asking.

By the way, some knowledge of these mysteries persisted into the third and fourth centuries. Even Athanasius spoke of the need to maintain a tradition of secrecy for some aspects of Christianity:

We ought not then to parade the holy mysteries before the uninitiated, lest the heathen in their ignorance deride them, and the Catechumens being over-curious be offended.
(Defense Against the Arians 1:11, in NPNF Series 2, 4:106, as cited by Bickmore, p. 300.)

This sounds like the LDS approach today as well.

The word "mysteries" in early Christian writings can refer to ordinances, not just teachings. As used in Greek, it normally referred to the practices of the Greek "mystery religions" that included ceremonies and teachings. As used it the New Testament, it can carry this nuance of rites as well as knowledge (see G.G. Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism, New York: E.J. Brill, 1996, p. 133, as cited by Bickmore, p. 300).

The LDS Temple is a marvelous, Christ-focused place where great blessings are offered to faithful members of His church. The ceremonies and teachings there are sacred and treated with the respect that the sacred pearls of the Gospel demand. Like the earliest Christians, Latter-day Saints have sacred, private ceremonies offering the most lofty and beautiful aspects of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Related questions about the LDS Temple are answered on my page, "Is the LDS Temple Derived From Masonry?"

Why do you ordain twelve-year olds to be deacons? Paul said they should be married men.

George Q. Cannon answers this question in Gospel Truth, Vol. 1, p.242:

Paul in referring to the branches of the Church as then organized had in mind adults who had been ordained. Probably, in those branches the most of the members, if not all, were newly converted; none had been born in the Church who were at that time old enough to hold the Priesthood. . . .

The circumstances which surround us here in Zion are entirely different from those which surrounded the Saints in the days of Paul and of which he wrote. There is no impropriety whatever in young men, even as early as at the age of twelve or fourteen years, acting as Deacons. They receive a training that is very valuable to them, and we know of many who have been and are greatly benefited by acting in this position, meeting with the Deacons' quorum and receiving such instructions as are proper to be imparted to them in this capacity. The cases to which Paul refers, therefore, and those that exist in Zion are not at all parallel.

All who have had experience among the young Deacons of the Church are doubtless convinced of the propriety of ordaining our boys early, if worthy, that they may become thoroughly familiar one by one with the duties of the various offices and grades of the Priesthood. (Jan. 15, 1899, JI 34:48-9)

What are the duties of deacons and other priesthood offices?

Young men ages 12 to 13 normally serve as deacons, followed by the office of "teacher" for ages 14 to 15 and "priest" for ages 16 and older. All these offices are in the Aaronic Priesthood. At age 18 or 19, young men can be considered for advancement to the higher Priesthood, that of Melchizedek Priesthood (the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God).

In the Aaronic Priesthood, deacons can distribute the sacrament (communion) to people and fulfill other assignments, particularly the collection of "fast offerings" to help the poor and the needy. Teachers can help prepare the sacrament, visit members regularly with a companion to serve them as "home teachers," and perform other duties. Priests can ordain others to the Aaronic Priesthood, can baptize, can bless the sacrament, and can do all that teachers or deacons do.

Though he is a High Priest, Bishop is the President of the Aaronic Priesthood in a ward and the president of the Priests Quorum, and serves under a Stake President who has authority over several congregations. A primary responsibility of the Bishop is to care for the poor and needy, relying heavily on the collection of fast offerings by deacons and others to have resources to help. Interestingly, some of these modern LDS practices closely parallel early Christian patterns. For example, here is a passage from Robert M. Grant's book, Augustus to Constantine (Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 1970, p. 150):

The only Christian writer from the middle of the second century to say anything about the organization of the community is the apologist Justin (ca. 150). He tells us that at the eucharist a lector read from the "reminiscences of the apostles" (which, he says, "are called 'gospels'"), and bread and wine were brought to "the president [proestos] of the brethren." After he offered a long prayer or sequence of prayers, the "deacons" distributed the bread and wine to those present and also took them to the absent.

The president's functions were both liturgical and charitable, for he was also the community's administrator of funds for orphans, widows, the sick, prisoners, and visitors from abroad.[Apol. 1, 65-67]

Justin is writing at Rome, and it is therefore not surprising that in earlier Roman writings similar functions are described. In the Shepherd of Hermas, for example, we have found "the presbyters who preside over the church," and both bishops and deacons - the latter by definition subordinate to the former - concerned with widows and orphans....

Justin's reticence about presbyters and bishops, contrasting with his explicit mention of "president," lector, and deacons, may also be due to the circumstances. Had he mentioned these offices they might have been subject to arrest by the Roman authorities. In any event, judging from the writings both before him and after 150, the "president" was one among the Roman presbyters, and he was probably a bishop.

Here is the actual quote from Justin Martyr, Apologies for the Christians, Chapter 67:

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly....

This has a nice LDS flavor to it! Sunday worship, reviewing the words of the apostles and prophets, distributing the sacrament to those present and having opportunities to take it to the ill who could not come, collecting offerings for the care of the poor to be distributed under direction of the president ("branch president" or "bishop" in modern LDS terminology), a community that is closely knit together and spends a lot of time together - all these things are very typical of the LDS community. Call it a cult, if you will - but it's the kind of cult that my man Justin Martyr wrote about around 150 A.D.

Robert Grant also discusses the office of "presbyter" or "elder" in the early Church, typically older men who served with the Bishop, though sometimes they are also called bishops (pp. 65-66). They have other servants or deacons who work with them. While the terminology for Church offices was very fluid then as it has been in the restored Church, the administrative concepts are very similar: Bishops and Presidents leading with the help of Elders and other offices, including deacons (which just means servant), initially under the direction of apostles and prophets (see pp. 63-68).

As our Sixth Article of Faith teaches, "We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth." There are some differences in detail, typically due to changes in circumstance and need, but the core is the same: multiple priesthood offices such as bishop, teacher, deacon, and elder, all in one organization under apostolic direction, with each office requiring ordination by the laying on of hands by those in authority. We're really serious when we say that there has been a Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Do Mormons have to serve missions? Is mission service viewed with fear?

Mission service is voluntary. No force is used in the Church, but family and friends create expectations for righteous living, for mission service, for faithfulness in marriage, and so forth. I find that righteous expectations can have a very positive effect on young people's lives, but the choice to serve is still made by the individual. About 30% of our young men choose to go on a mission, and perhaps about 10% of our young women go. Many famous Mormons like Donny Osmond, Steve Young, and J. W. Marriott did not serve missions. The men who don't go on missions aren't ostracized by the Church, and families and members are taught to still love and minister to those who choose not to go. Many significant Church leaders never went on missions. Many of our fine local leaders did not - but they often wish they did. Those who do go experience great growth and many wonderful blessings as they sacrifice two years of their lives for unpaid service as representatives of Christ. I know of no greater thing that a 19-year old man can do.

It's a similar thing for Eagle Scouts - an award strongly emphasized by the church youth programs for young men. I think less than 30% become Eagle Scouts, and while those who don't often regret it all their lives (I regret not earning it), they are not ostracized.

Do young men fear going on missions? Some do - it certainly is a leap into the unknown. But most eagerly anticipate it. Those who really dread it usually don't go. There are strict requirements about personal worthiness to be a missionary, so no amount of peer pressure can send someone on a mission who isn't ready. (By the way, I once saw a survey of some kind saying that 98% of missionaries end their missions successfully, but that 2% consider it a failure and go home early. That fits my experience with missionaries I have known - maybe 3% is more accurate. I'm sure 98% find it very frustrating at moments, though.)

Why doesn't the Church take action against some people with terrible sins?

Here's a specific question on this issue, modified to hide the identity of the sender:

My dad had an affair with another woman in the church, and the bishop did nothing about it. I haven't been to church since. I feel as if everything I have been taught has been a bunch of junk. I don't know what to feel about the church anymore. I want to feel the same way about the church as I had before but I don't know if I can. I hope you can help.

Thank you for offering me a chance to talk with you about the terrible burden you face involving the adultery of your father. I'm very sorry about what has happened. Serious sins like adultery cause such terrible pain to others, as you well know, yet the sinners are often clueless about what they've done or seek to deny the grief they cause.

Based on my understanding of the Gospel and my training as Bishop, I cannot tolerate or condone adultery or similar sins and I work hard to bring sinners to repentance and to initiate disciplinary action against the guilty. But there are many difficulties that we bishops face along the way. We cannot excommunicate someone for adultery unless they confess the sin or unless there are at least two witnesses against them. This rule is to protect the members of the Church, otherwise people could be excommunicated based on rumors or hearsay or based on the false testimony of one angry person. So the first question is whether the Bishop has hard evidence of the affair - either a confession from your Dad or evidence from two or more witnesses. I trust that you have reported the problem to the Bishop and offered him the names of people who might have evidence or knowledge of the affair. He can't act on mere rumors. But best of all would be if your Dad confessed.

The next question is whether the Bishop actually has done anything or not. Disciplinary action is always confidential. There are several actions that may occur, depending on the sin and the repentance of the person. Each case is different. The person may be put on informal probation or formal probation, or may be disfellowshipped (still a member but unable to take the sacrament, hold callings, etc.), or may be excommunicated. Disfellowshipment is pretty common for serious sins: it is a severe but temporary measure intended to motivate the person to full repentance. If there is not full repentance, disfellowshipment should eventually lead to excommunication. But if someone is disfellowshipped, it is not broadcast around the ward to protect the privacy of the sinner. Likewise, excommunication is not widely broadcast, but the person's name may no longer be on the ward list. Most bishops will have the need to deal with cases of serious sin. When such a sin happens just once and the person is remorseful and zealously strives to repent, only mild action may be required to help the person. When the problem is more long term but the person is really trying to repent, disfellowshipment may be appropriate, but other outcomes are possible (e.g., those who have been to the temple or are church leaders are held to a high standard because of the covenants they have made and may be excommunicated - many factors have to be considered prayerfully). When the person does not confess the sin but the evidence is strongly against him, excommunication can be the result. Sometimes nothing can be done unless witnesses are willing to come forth to testify, and they often are not. We want to prevent people from being falsely accused or disciplined just on the basis of hearsay. Thus, it may be that people "know" that someone committed adultery, but if there is no confession and no one willing to testify, the Bishop can't do much.

If someone had an affair over a brief period of time and has since earnestly repented and openly confessed his sin to the Bishop, it is unlikely that anyone else in the ward would know of the outcome, but that does not mean that the Bishop did nothing.

If your father holds the Melchizedek priesthood (he would if he was married in the Temple), the jurisdiction for the case usually passes on to the Stake rather than the ward. Things happen more slowly at the Stake level, but they do happen. We must remember that the primary purpose of disciplinary action is to help the sinner to repent (and to protect the name of the Church - which requires evidence). If they won't, judgment of sins is left to the Lord and He will judge and resolve all these issues most thoroughly. My hands as bishop may be tied due to lack of adequate evidence sometimes, but when the Lord judges sins, nothing will hold back his arm of judgment - but woe to the sinner on that day if he or she has not repented and chosen to accept the Atonement of Christ.

Finally, it just may be possible that your Bishop has blown it and has ignored a serious problem that he should have done something about. Bishops can be deceived, they can let things fall through the cracks, they can make bad decisions, they can be influenced by friendships, and they can even sin. They usually don't, but all these things are possible because we are mortals trying to follow the Lord but often stumbling. The point is, this is not your Bishop's church. It is not my church or yours - it is the Church of Jesus Christ. We don't look to the Bishop for salvation, we look to Jesus Christ. PLEASE don't let the mistakes and sins of others tear you away from Jesus Christ and from the organization that He has established to bless you. Whether it's your Father, the Bishop, me, or anyone else, don't give any mortal the power to keep you away from where you should be in the Church of our Savior and Redeemer. Yes, I know of the great pain that sins of others can cause and of the yearning that something be done about them. Something will! If church leaders aren't taking action (perhaps they are, perhaps they can't - I don't know), know for sure that the Lord will.

Don't expect perfection from the leaders of the church. If the Bishop errs, does that delete the Book of Mormon? Does that erase the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Does that turn Joseph Smith, Moses, Isaiah, and Noah into frauds? If I as Bishop decide to smoke, drink, gamble, and watch Baywatch, has anything about Jesus Christ and His Gospel changed? It's not the fault of His Church, but of us mortals when such things happen. Please don't be quick to condemn the Church or to abandon the Lord, but be strong and resolved to stay true no matter what - no matter how great the grief. The grief is for a small moment and the endless joy of Christ will one day swallow that up in an instant.

Now just as the sin of your father has caused great harm to you, please stop for a moment and ask yourself whether your actions - or inactions - may likewise cause great harm to others. Think of the grief that he has caused you. Now consider this: Might there be even one person out there in the world whose life will be forever changed one day because of your testimony and faithfulness to the Gospel, who will have great grief replaced with eternal joy? Is it possible that someone out there will never hear the Gospel if you are not active in the Church? Is it possible that one shy and tender person will lack the strength and fellowship needed to accept the Gospel if your shoulder is not there to lean on or even to cry on? Is there a new convert who will fall away because you were not there to strengthen her? Could there be someone who hears of your anger toward the Church and loses their resolve to be true or to go on a mission?

We are all connected in this world. Our sins hurt others, our inaction and inactivity hurts others by destroying opportunities to do good, and our faith and love and activity in the kingdom of God blesses many other lives. Our bitterness over someone's sin can sometimes do more harm to the world that sin ever did (Alma 34:40; Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11). The Church is really true - and you are needed in it. Don't let the mistakes of mortals destroy your potential as a servant of Jesus Christ.

Why doesn't your church tolerate homosexuality? Isn't that what the Bible really teaches?

Many people, including some ministers, have written eloquent articles encouraging toleration of homosexuality, often arguing that the Bible is relatively silent on the issue. In my community, for example, a well known minister has publicly stated that the Bible mentions only a few sexual sins and leaves plenty of room for embracing homosexuality. He and others have solidly condemned opponents of homosexuality as bigoted or even hateful.

While many specific sexual sins are mentioned only a few times if at all, a perceived silence on specifics cannot hush the clear voice of God on sexual morality. Christ and many of the prophets and apostles taught that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and that sex outside the bonds of marriage is wrong. In teaching sexual morality, Christ even went beyond the principles of the Mosaic Law, adding that even to lust after a woman (or, obviously, a man) is a sin.

The Biblical principles of sexual morality and the sanctity of the traditional family leave no room to condone homosexual activity. Furthermore, the Bible has specific condemnations of homosexual activity in the books of Genesis (the story of Sodom and Gomorrah), Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Kings ("sodomites"), Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Jude. Negative references to Sodom were also made by many other writers and by Christ. I believe that no serious student of the Bible can fail to see that homosexual activity was understood to be a serious sin by the writers of the Bible. It is still a sin today. Modern revelation has again confirmed that sexual activity outside of legal and lawful marriage between a man and a woman is a serious sin. Note that it is the behavior, not the orientation, that is sinful. The existence of temptation is not the sin - but we are accountable for how we deal with the temptation. Falling into illicit sexual activity of any kind - homosexual or heterosexual - is a serious sin.

It is often assumed that anyone opposed to homosexual behavior is hateful. Those who teach hate are far from God - but hate is rarely the message when Christian ministers speak out against sin. For example, many ministers, including myself, strongly oppose alcoholism, yet we feel no hate for alcoholics and value them as brothers and sisters struggling with a heavy burden. Indeed, for a minister to condone alcohol abuse as just another lifestyle would be a grave disservice to his flock and to alcoholics in particular. Compassion is needed, for many alcoholics suffer greatly and feel that they have little choice in the matter. Ultimately, though, all of us can gain self-control over our bodies with the help of God. But the alcoholic must know that his or her behavior is wrong, regardless of mitigating factors. Fortunately, Christ does more than simply define what is right and wrong. Christ offers the power to change. His love leads to newness of life as we follow Him, empowered by His grace.

Some ministers feel they stand on higher moral ground by accepting the gay/lesbian lifestyle. However, they must understand that condoning sin does not liberate souls nor bring them to Christ. We love sinners most fully when we teach them the hope that Christ offers to overcome sin, including destructive sexual sins. As sons and daughters of God, we are happiest and most free when we follow Him, even when great personal sacrifices are required along that truly straight and narrow path.

Doesn't the Bible warn against doing genealogy work?

You refer to 1 Timothy 1:4:

"Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do."

This passage is often used to make an objection to LDS family history work. But if that's what Paul really meant, then why does the Bible itself spend so many pages in giving genealogical information? And not just for Christ, but for many others? (And the genealogy of Christ would never have been possible had not many generations of genealogical data been kept in earlier generations by some faithful Jews.)

We believe in the fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 4 that the hearts of the children will be turned to the fathers in preparation for the coming of the Lord, and that family history and genealogical work is an important part of this. And one purpose for this work is to support for the Christian work that goes on in the Temple. For information, please see my page on Baptism for the Dead.

As for the objection based on 1 Tim. 1:4, it is important to understand what Paul was really talking about. Kevin L. Barney discussed this issue in recent e-mail (Nov. 8, 1999) which I quote with permission:

The "fables" referred to are mentioned several times in the Pastorals (and the genealogies come up again in Titus 3:9). There is, of course, a context to these fables. They seem to represent seeds of the incipient Gnosticism, not yet in full flower, that delighted in speculative legends about the origins and propagation of the angels and other divine beings. The "genealogies" referred to are not the civic genealogies so common in Paul's native Judaism and to which he surely would not have objected, but to the Gnostic genealogies of spirits and aeons and emanations.

Further, note how the second half of the verse is rendered in the NET:

"These promote useless speculations rather than God's redemptive plan that operates by faith."

The KJV follows the Western Text in reading "godly edifying" [oikodomEn theou], but the NET, as other modern translations, follow the reading "God's redemptive plan" [oikonomia theou]. The word oikonomia (lit. "law of the house" and the source of Engl. "economy") refers to management or stewardship of a household. Of course, our genealogies do not lead to speculative theological questions; rather, we engage in this pursuit for the very purpose of furthering "God's redemptive plan." Our critics of course disagree with us that baptism is necessarily a part of that plan, and they are entitled to their views, but to attack our practice as prohibited by 1 Tim. 1:4 shows a fundamental ignorance of the meaning of the verse.

(Besides, if your family history library is anything like ours, there are more non-LDS Christians than LDS Christians there actively researching their ancestry.)

Do Mormons believe in modern medicine? Do they believe that God will heal them or do seek medical care?

We use doctors, medicine, and faith. We have no problems with blood transfusions, surgery, etc. We do have priesthood blessings to help the sick, as James explains (James 5: 14,15), and I've seen miracles occur through that power - but not always, and not according to our will. Priesthood blessings should not be used instead of professional care. It is my understanding that God expects us to do our best and use the resources available to us - including modern medicine - before we can expect miraculous intervention. So when people are sick, we encourage them to seek medical care, while praying for them, fasting for them, giving priesthood blessings, and generally seeking the tender mercies of the Lord to be extended toward them - but His will, not ours, be done.

Among Latter-day Saints there are a number of famous doctors and surgeons, including J. Devn Cornish of Emory Hospital in Atlanta who helped pioneer life-saving heart-lung bypass methods for premature infants, and Russell M. Nelson, a famous heart surgeon who is now an apostle.

And don't forget this: while we believe in modern medicine, we generally need it less because living the principles of the Gospel, including the Word of Wisdom (the inspired LDS health code revealed in 1833 and subsequently validated by modern science), makes faithful, active Mormons one of the healthiest populations on earth.

What does the Church do to help the needy?

Quite a lot! We believe that taking care of the poor and needy is an integral part of our duty as Christians and one of several important reasons why the Lord has an organized Church. The Church not only runs large programs to help the needy, the Church teaches each individual to live a life of service and to sacrifice to help other, which results in many spontaneous projects by local Church units and individuals to help those in need. And part of being able to serve others is preparing for the future, including emergency preparedness, improving our own employment situation, managing our resources carefully, food storage, and so forth. A new Church Web site, ProvidentLiving.org, is an example of what the Church teaches in this area. As I see it, provident living means that we prepare for the future so we can better take care of ourselves, our families, and others.

While we do emphasize that each person and family has a responsibility to take care of themselves, there will always be those in distress and need. The LDS welfare system is a marvelous means of helping our members and others in need. In addition, the Church supports many humanitarian service around the world. See LDSCharities.org, the LDS Humanitarian Center, and even Deseret Industries.

The LDS welfare program is an inspired program which emphasizes self-reliance. As stated above, people are first taught to take care of their own needs. When that is inadequate, they are taught to turn toward their families. Needs that are still unmet can then be helped by the Church. The Church owns farmland and production facilities to produce food and other goods for the needy in our midst, including non-members in some cases. Church welfare facilities include 99 storehouses, over 100 employment centers (to help people find employment); and 46 thrift stores (Church News, Nov. 18, 1995, p. 12). 150,000 days of labor in those facilities were donated in 1994 to help the poor and needy. The Church has used its resources to provide disaster relief in the U.S. and over 100 other countries in the past 10 years. About 400 humanitarian projects are currently underway. More recently, here's a blog post about some LDS service projects in 2012.

I personally had the experience of joining with hundreds of LDS people who went to Homestead Florida after Hurricane Andrew swept through in 1993. LDS people were there day after day in the aftermath putting roofs back on homes. It was tough work, but it as great to see so many hundreds of LDS people there serving the community, regardless of their religious orientation. The LDS welfare system was able to mobilize large quantities of greatly needed plywood, food, and other materials and have shipments on their way to Florida within hours after the hurricane struck - and long before relief could be provided by any other agency. It's was truly inspiring to see the Church at work, with a high level of organization and efficiency, in conditions that otherwise would have been chaotic.

I have seen the welfare system operating up close, blessing the lives of members and non-members of the Church. It's tied, in part, to the law of the fast, as members fast monthly and donate money saved on food - or much more - to allow local bishops to have funds to help the needy in our midst, and hopefully to provide excess funds for other parts of the world. There's no overhead, no politics - just a lot of kindness and love for others. I'm really proud to be a Latter-day Saint!

How does one become a saint in your religion?

For us, it's the same as it was in the original Church of Jesus Christ. It involves four basic steps:

1. Believe in Christ;
2. Repent of sins to follow Him;
3. Be baptized by immersion in His name; and
4. Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands from someone with authority from God.

This makes one a member of the Church of Jesus Christ (now "of Latter-day Saints"), and thus a "saint." Now, as in times of old, members of the Church were called "saints" because they were striving to follow Christ and to be made holy by His grace - not because we are holy or better than anyone else. Why wait? I recommend you take steps toward sainthood today.

How does one join your Church?

A person must have faith in Christ, strive to repent of past sins and be willing to live the commandments Christ has given us, and be willing to make a covenant to follow Christ. Typically, the person will be taught about 6 lessons from missionaries, and then will be interviewed to see if he or she is ready and understands what he or she is doing. If so, a baptismal service will be scheduled where the convert will be baptized by immersion from someone who has the proper authority for that sacred ordinance. (The words spoken, after calling the person by name, are "having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.") Afterwards, typically on the following Sunday during sacrament meeting, the convert will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands and be confirmed as an official member.

New members are often pleasantly surprised to find that joining the Church brings them into a family of "brothers" and "sisters" who strive to help and nurture them in the Gospel. There are still problems of all kinds, but I've been really impressed with the fellowship among the Saints in the restored Church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said his burden was easy and his yoke was light, but your Church seems to demand an awful lot from its members. Isn't that wrong?

Yes, in Matthew 10:29-30, Christ encourages us to take up his yoke and follow Him, and tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden light. But it is a yoke and a burden He asks us to take. Note that Christ also asks his believers to give all that they have for that pearl of great price, and to serve God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength. Consider Luke 10:25-28:

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

As He did in a similar setting in Matthew 19, Christ goes on in Luke 10 to surprise His audience by explaining that even more is expected. In Luke 10, He explains that the neighbors we must love even include those we may normally despise. In Matt. 19, he surprises the rich young man who asked what he should do to gain eternal life. After telling him to "keep the commandments" and reciting the 10 commandment, he then added that he should sell all that he has (Matt. 19:17-21). The young man was disappointed, and Christ then told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24). His disciples were amazed and wondered who could be saved, and Christ reminded them that "with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). Peter then said, "Behold, we have forsake all and followed thee" (see also Mark 10:29). This was not a faith for the uncommitted.

For the early day saints of New Testament times, membership in the Church often involved sacrifice and commitment. Acts 2:41-47 informs us that they sold all that they had to have all things in common, and were heavily involved in Church work, "continuing daily in the temple." In addition, many would have to give their lives for their faith.

So the light yoke of Matt. 10 is indeed a yoke. There is work to be done and sacrifices to be made. Following Christ and taking up his yoke does not involve simply cruising through life seeking fun. The yoke is light, though, because He gives us strength and blesses us richly as we serve. In fact, His yoke helps us to stand taller and go further than we could ever do on our own - it is a support, not a burden. But if we expect to be able to seek our own will and serve Mammon and God at the same time, then we will find the burden unbearable.

Though God may ask us to sacrifice all that we have, we mortal members of the Church should avoid asking others to do too much. Sometimes members get overwhelmed with all their burdens and need support and comfort rather than a heavier calling. President Hinckley has recently asked Church leaders to be increasingly sensitive to this. We must not ask others to run faster than they have strength.

Why do you worship on Sunday instead of the real Sabbath day?

For centuries the Sabbath day was the seventh day, but we believe it was changed to "the Lord's day" - the first day of the week, the day of the Lord's resurrection - in the very early days of the Church.

As you know, the first day of the week was the day that the Lord rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1-6) and appeared to his gathered disciples (John 20:19). Thereafter, the first day of the week was called "the Lord's day" (e.g., Rev. 1:10), and we see some evidence of the early saints gathering and preaching on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 reports:

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them....

Also consider 1 Corinthians 16:2, where Paul tells the Corinthians, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." This storing of goods may refer to a collection as the Saints gathered for their weekly Sunday services.

Historically Sunday, not Saturday, was the normal meeting day for Christians in the church, and its practice dates back to the first century. The New Testament, though, is not explicit about worship being changed from Saturday to Sunday. But other early Christian documents clarify this. The widely accepted early Christian documents, The Epistle of Barnabas and The Didache, show that the Sabbath was on Sunday:

"Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning on the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfullness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens."
(Epistle of Barnabas 15, in ANF [Ante-Nicene Fathers] 1:147, brackets in original, as cited by Bickmore, p. 272.)

"But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice."
(Didache 14, in ANF 1:62, as cited by Bickmore, p. 272.)

And Ignatius told the Magnesians to no longer observe the [former] Sabbath, but to live "in the observance of the Lord's day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death" (Ignatius, Magnesians 9, in ANF 1:62, as cited by Bickmore, p. 272).

In the second century, Justin Martyr described a Christian worship service:

"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we have before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability.... But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead."
(Justin Martyr, First Apology 67)

Where possible, Latter-day Saints continue to worship on this new Sabbath day, the first day of the week.

Does your religion oppress women and restrict their rights?

No, but critics don't like the fact that we see men and women as having different roles. These roles, which we see as sacred and as being tied to God's eternal purposes for us, are described in the Official LDS Proclamation on the Family and Family Practices.

Mormon families have problems, too, and you can find Mormon men that are tyrants, but they stand opposed to the teachings of the Church.

Our emphasis on traditional families is not oppressive, though it presents challenges to women as well as men. Historically, Mormon women have proved to be a tough and hearty lot, and they have been on the cutting edge of women's rights. They were the first American women to vote in municipal elections. Even when Utah was viewed as a place of dark oppression against women by critics of polygamy (prior to 1890, when polygamy was ended as a practice), Utah women were probably more free in the exercise of political rights than women anywhere else. In fact, when the federal government decided to crack down on the Latter-day Saints in Utah back in the 1870s and 1880s, the radical efforts to reduce the political power of Mormons included disenfranchisement of Mormon women. Mormon leaders had provided much more political freedom to women than the federal government did.

But why don't you ordain women to the Priesthood? The group Ordain Women is calling for that. Wouldn't that provide for more equality for women in the Church?

Great question. Yes, a group of women called Ordain Women has gained publicity in their criticism of the Church and their calls for the ordination of women. Many LDS women strongly disagree with the arguments being made, though their is certainly room for debate. But implicit in Ordain Women's demands are some assumptions about gender roles in the Church that need to be reconsidered, in my opinion. As a thoughtful example of another LDS woman responding to this issue, I'll quote from an article by an LDS woman I know and respect wrote, Karen Trifiletti. Karen is a Philadelphia-born, second generation Italian, an LDS convert since 1980 who describes herself as a "perfectly imperfect but graced follower of Christ." She is a mother of two, a writer, and a business professional. In "Open Letter to Kate Kelly, Ordain Women, & Questioning Onlookers" at LDS.net (2014), Karen discusses some of the critical assumptions behind the Ordain Women movement and in so doing, helps us better appreciate the current role of women in the Church and their future role in the Church and in the Kingdom of God. What follows is just a small portion of her response, this one dealing with what she labels as Assumption #3 in the Ordain Women movement.

Oppressive Patriarchy vs. Liberating Patriarchal Order

How about ASSUMPTION 3?:

Assumption: We have a patriarchy in which men make all the decisions and one sex is therefore oppressed.

This assumption comes up in various ways in Ordain Women venues.

First of all, it speaks directly to a point Hannah Wheelright made as she shared her very reasons for becoming part of Ordain Women. She was concerned when she read in Genesis that men "ruled over" women, and thought that being ordained to the priesthood would be the only way to level the playing field, as I understood her remarks. (I listened to them 3 times, but correct me if I misunderstood. There were related reasons shared as well, which are addressed here, and some which are not because they fall into the cultural discussion, which I think is a separate and important one.)

This is an unfortunate, blatant misunderstanding of doctrine, and was a significant factor in a leader of OW turning to ordination as the solution for the perceived inequity.

As Bruce C. Hafen, formerly of the Seventy, and his wife, Marie, explained:

Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to 'rule over' Eve; 'rule over' uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling 'with,' not ruling 'over.' … The concept of interdependent, equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel. Eve was Adam's 'help meet' (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for meet means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn't his servant or his subordinate.

This is also reflected on the OW website FAQ, as follows:

The Church's Proclamation on the Family declares that men preside over their wives and families, thus preserving an antiquated and unequal model in both the domestic and ecclesiastical realms.

The word, "presiding" here is misunderstood and implies "ruling over." This misconception allows women to think they need to set things right. Any woman who simply defers to her husband's every whim because he is male is not exercising the priesthood power she has, nor does she understand the doctrine as a point of order rather than of dominion. She has the ability to think, consult with, disagree with, and share her every consideration, and to have that be considered fully before a united decision is made.

As Glenn Pace stated, "Unfortunately, however, some look upon the patriarchal order as a monarchal order. The patriarchal order is not an authority of command, but a point of order" (Spiritual Plateaus, 75).

That's important doctrine and an important distinction. Patriarchal order isn't the eclipsing of women, nor is it a carryover from other cultures whose system is hierarchical or oppressive. Our view of the patriarchal order, and of marriage and relationships, is not hierarchical or gender-disequal. As Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

In some cultures, tradition places a man in a role to dominate, control, and regulate all family affairs. That is not the way of the Lord. In some places the wife is almost owned by her husband, as if she were another of his personal possessions. That is a cruel, mistaken vision of marriage encouraged by Lucifer that every priesthood holder must reject. It is founded on the false premise that a man is somehow superior to a woman. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As Elder Earl C. Tingey, formerly of the Presidency of the Seventy, has said:

You must not misunderstand what the Lord meant when Adam was told he was to have a helpmeet. A helpmeet is a companion suited to or equal to [the other]. [They] walk side by side … not one before or behind the other. A helpmeet results in an absolute equal partnership between a husband and a wife. Eve was to be equal to Adam as a husband and wife are to be equal to each other.

If we turn to scripture, we see that the root for helpmeet in Hebrew is ezer. We read that word in Psalm 30:10, "O Lord be thou my helper." Sixteen times in the Old Testament it's used to reference God or Yahweh as the helper of His people. As Victor Hamilton notes, "Any suggestion that this particular word denotes one who has only an associate or subordinate status to a senior member is refuted by the fact that most frequently this same word describes Yahweh's relationship to Israel. He is Israel's help(er)" (The Book of Genesis: The International Commentary on the Old Testament, R.K. Harrison, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990, 175).

"The patriarchal order is not an authority of command, but a point of order."

Do we have an equal voice and should we? Absolutely. Should our contributions be equally valued? Absolutely. And where they may not be, we have to address those voids culturally, as we are not yet perfect, any of us. But I'll address that, again, in a sequel. I'm speaking to the doctrine so we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater and hide behind the need for ordination when in instances following our foreordination as women is all that's needed. As Elder Perry affirmed: "There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family" (EnsignMay 2004). So the matriarch is equal to the patriarch, the woman equal to the man in value and capacity. And similarly, President Kimball noted, "We don't want our women to be silent partners or limited partners" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, 1982, 315).

Holding an office in the Church organization isn't tantamount to having greater power and it isn't the solution to being ruled over, since being ruled over isn't the doctrine to begin with. Similarly, the person presiding as a point of order has no more power than the one presided with. A male presiding in a meeting has no more power than a woman speaking or a man speaking in that meeting. Power comes from doing our job with the Spirit of the Lord under the umbrella of the priesthood power of God which covers us all.

These OW statements and conclusions are based on misperceptions and are non-sequiturs, unless you hold a paradigm of functionally same equality, which if you look at answers to these assumptions, becomes a non-issue.

Again, there are instances where these principles are violated, and those clearly need to be addressed. But we change the culture by living the doctrine; we don't change the doctrine to undo misunderstandings of the Savior's teachings.

Karen makes many more important points in her article.

Do Mormons look down on mothers who work? Why do you encourage women to stay at home?

No, we don't look down on the many women who work. Yes, LDS Church leaders have taught that the role of a mother is sacred and vitally important, and have encouraged mothers to stay home, when possible. Let me first point out, however, that the Church encourages both women and men to become educated and to be prepared to make meaningful contributions in the world. LDS people have heard this frequently from the current President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, but it's not a new concept. For perspective, here are a couple of quotations from Brigham Young:

As I have often told my sisters in the Female Relief societies, we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large. In following these things they but answer the design of their creation. (Journal of Discourses 13:61.)

The ladies can learn to keep books as well as the men; we have some few, already, who are just as good accountants as any of our brethren. Why not teach more to keep books and sell goods, and let them do this business, and let the men go to raising sheep, wheat, or cattle, or go and do something or other to beautify the earth and help to make it like the Garden of Eden, instead of spending their time in a lazy, loafing manner? (Journal of Discourses 12:374-75.)

But without doubt, Church leaders have encouraged mothers to be at home with their children, when possible. This advice is there to help them and their families, and is not given as a standard for criticism or spirituality. We understand that many women need to work and have circumstances that require them to be away more than they might like. Many LDS women, like many women in other faiths, would prefer to be "stay-at-home" mothers in order to give their children all the love and attention they feel they need, but not all have that luxury, nor do all wish to. In my opinion, we must also understand that personal, non-financial reasons, such as personal fulfillment (or not going crazy!), are factors that also must be considered in selecting the responsibilities and activities of parents. The issue of motherhood and careers tends to be a heavier one for LDS women, however, in part because of the Church's emphasis on the family and on the distinct roles of men and women. For example, here is an excerpt from the LDS Proclamation on the Family:

The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.

With that doctrinal background, it is understandable that we would encourage women to be at home to raise and nurture their children. Not all can do this. Single mothers have great challenges before them, and many married women must work as well. But when changes in lifestyle can be made to allow a mother to stay at home with her children (especially young children) while still meeting her fundamental needs, it should be seriously considered, in my opinion. I believe we should approach the issue prayerfully and selflessly, seeking to bless the lives of all in the family, including the mother.

Often men are the ones who push the mothers of their children into the workplace. The men may need a change in attitude--specifically, a reduction in personal selfishness in order for the father and mother to provide for the most important needs of their children, not just the financial wants of the parents.

I marvel at many mothers who are able to do so much for their children while also being breadwinners. But typically, even with the most amazing and talented of women, there is a price to be paid. You simply cannot be away from your children for most of the day and still retain all the influence and all the blessings that come with being a full-time mother. That doesn't mean working mothers are bad Mormons, but there are real trade-offs. To help clarify the practical reality of this painful issue, I wish to quote from a non-LDS woman in one of my favorite magazines, The Atlantic Monthly. The source is Caitlin Flanagan, "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement: Dispatches from the Nanny Wars," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 293, No. 2, March 2004, pp. 109-128 (available online):

Susan Tucker's Telling Memories Among Southern Women (another excellent and highly readable book) includes an elderly black woman's account of her experience working as a domestic for a white family in Depression-era Mobile: "They had two children, and one, that little old spoiled Clara, she was a teenager then. I still see her. She used to always get me about working for her, says, 'You raised me, and I want you to raise my daughters.'" During the Great Migration it was common for black women to find domestic work with members of an employer's family who had moved north.

Interesting facts, all of them, but the most striking comment comes from little old spoiled Clara. "You raised me," she said to her former nanny; "I want you to raise my daughters." If there is a signal difference between these nanny times and previous ones, it has to do with the intense anxiety working mothers feel about who, exactly, is "raising" their children. I know many women whose children are cared for almost around the clock by nannies, but those women would never be as honest about the fact as Clara. For that reason, and for a hundred others, the subject of nannies is a minefield. For many professional-class women like me, the relationship they have with their children's nanny is a source of the deepest and most painful kind of self-examination. The relationship is in many ways more intense--more vexing, more rewarding, more vital, more fraught--than a marriage. The precise intersection of many women's most passionate impulses--their profound, almost physical love for their children and their ardent wish to make something of themselves beyond their own doorstep--is the exact spot where nannies show up for work each day. There isn't a nanny in the world who has not received a measure of love that a child would rather have bestowed on his mother. The women's magazines--which have shrewdly staked out as their turf the inexhaustible guilt and anxiety of the working mother--will have none of this. Article after article insists that no one can ever replace a mother, and that a child's love for his mother is unequaled by his feelings for anyone else. Rubbish. To con oneself into thinking that the person who provides daily physical care to a child is not the one he is going to love in a singular and primal way--a way obviously designed by nature herself to cleave child to mother and vice versa--is to ignore one of the most fundamental truths of childhood. . . .

What few will admit--because it is painful, because it reveals the unpleasant truth that life presents a series of choices, each of which precludes a host of other attractive possibilities--is that when a mother works, something is lost. Children crave their mothers. They always have and they always will. And women fortunate enough to live in a society where they have access to that greatest of levelers, education, will always have the burning dream of doing something more exciting and important than tidying Lego blocks and running loads of laundry. If you want to make an upper-middle-class woman squeal in indignation, tell her she can't have something. If she works she can't have as deep and connected a relationship with her child as she would if she stayed home and raised him. She can't have the glamour and respect conferred on career women if she chooses instead to spend her days at "Mommy and Me" classes. She can't have both things.

Caitlin Flanagan writes from the perspective of a working mother. I do not know much about her life and her values, but she is painfully honest about the reality of working away from home. These are factors that must be understood by those who are faced with these choices. For many LDS women who understand the eternal significance of their family, the scales tend to be strongly tipped toward staying at home when possible. But this is a personal decision. As members of the Church, we should try to support and love one another, and minimize judging and criticism.

What is the difference between Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost? I thought the Holy Spirit was the actual love of God and Christ in our hearts that we receive upon conversion.

The First Article of Faith ("We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost") implies that the Holy Ghost is a Being like the Father and Christ in whom we can believe. It doesn't seem to fit if it's just a power or influence. Likewise, in 1st Nephi 11, Nephi speaks and interacts with the Spirit of God - presumably the Holy Ghost - as if it were a Person. And of course, there is Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23:

22 The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.
23 A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.

What is confusing is the fact that other terms involving the word "spirit" may sometimes, but not always, refer to the Holy Ghost, and others may refer to his influence, and others may refer more generally to the influence and guidance from God or the love of God. The Holy GHost is sometimes called "the Spirit of God" or "the Holy Spirit." However, the terms "spirit" or "spirit of God" have a more general sense that may refer to abstract concepts or the influence of God. We can be guided "by the spirit" simply by having revelation from God or feeling his influence, which may be mediated through the Holy Ghost or directly caused by it, but it's not always clear. Plus God and Christ both have a spirit (and the term "spirit of Christ" refers to the conscience of man in Moroni 7:16, when it is obviously an influence or mental blessing and not the literal spirit component of the Being of Jesus Christ). There is also the "spirit of liberty" and so forth, referring to abstract concepts, so it can be confusing. But as long as we realize that phrases like "spirit" or "spirit of God" may refer to several different things that may have to be sorted out by consideration of the context, we should be OK.

One of the more puzzling areas of the Gospel, where very little has been revealed, involves the nature of the Holy Ghost. Who is He? How was He chosen? What exactly does He do? (And some may sincerely ask if the Holy GHost is even a He or even a Person?) Our many questions on this topic will be revealed someday - for now, we just do the best we can with what has been revealed.

What's up with Mormons and Christmas? Do Mormons celebrate Christmas?

Yes, certainly. We believe in Christ and seek to keep Him in mind during Christmas and Easter. In fact, we should be keeping Him in mind every day of the week, not just during our Sunday services or on special holidays. Sadly, Christmas has become more of a pagan festival than a religious holiday in our society. I worry that too many people focus only on the materialism and encounter largely stress during the Christmas season, but if done right, it can be a great time to remember the Messiah, the Savior of the World.

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