THE ARTICLES OF FAITH
Background for the Publishing and Eventual Canonization of the Articles of Faith
The original Pearl of Great Price contained no section entitled "The Articles of Faith." Though Joseph Smith first published his thirteen statements of belief for the saints in the March 1, 1842, edition of the Times and Seasons, they did not become known as "The Articles of Faith " until 1888. Initially, they were simply a set of statements with which Joseph concluded a brief history of the Church he wrote by special request.
The Prophet gave the saints a brief explanation of why he produced them. He wrote that John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, had been asked by an acquaintance, George Barstow, for information about the saints. The name Barstow was erroneously spelled Bastow in the Times and Seasons and History of the Church. Mr. Barstow was writing a history of New Hampshire and wanted to include information about the Mormons, some of whom were living in the area. In response, the Prophet sent to Mr. Wentworth a brief history that concluded with his thirteen succinct statements touching on important LDS beliefs. This history is likely similar or identical to that later printed by the Church as the Joseph Smith-History. That same history was printed serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 15, 1842, just two weeks after the thirteen statements of belief appeared in that same newspaper.
Because of the wide notoriety of the Church and the fact that Nauvoo was becoming a well-known, thriving metropolis, Mr. Barstow would have been well aware of the Church and its founder. Since Joseph Smith was born in New England, it was natural for Barstow to be curious about him and to want to investigate him and the Mormons.
It was also logical that Barstow approached Wentworth for information about the Mormons for three additional reasons:
- New Englanders were helping to colonize the West and kept those back home informed about what was happening there. Various restrictions limited expansion within the colonies like those that had created the Dutch settlements in the Hudson Valley, or English charters like the one that created New York. Colonists viewed areas to the west, called the "reserves," as their rightful possessions. They felt it was natural for their "sons" to expand into these areas. Prominent and well-informed people in many states were well aware of former citizens who were settling the frontier and the contribution they were making in the western reserves. As a result, no history of any New England colony would be complete without including developments in the West.
- Second, missionaries had set up a number of branches in New Hampshire, and the Church was making progress in the area. Various rumors circulated about the saints, ranging from sympathetic to ridiculous, but all serving to advertise the church's presence. The state was dominated by Calvinists, a group very protective of their spiritual turf and, therefore, very cautious about any new faith. While many were curious about the saints and what they believed, they sought to satisfy their curiosity from the safe distance of a book or newspaper.
- Finally, being unable to travel at the time, Barstow needed some help getting some accurate information about the Mormons. Because Wentworth lived in Chicago, relatively close to Nauvoo, Barstow may have thought that Wentworth would have material on hand or could easily supply him with such. Wentworth, however, had nothing he considered reliable. He certainly did not possess the detailed information that Barstow needed. Being a fair and considerate man, he decided to contact Joseph Smith directly.
Up to that time, no one had attempted to make a summary history of the Church. Joseph Smith had engaged people to work on a more comprehensive account. Oliver Cowdery and others had prepared brief statements on what the saints believed, but Joseph Smith himself had never worked on any. Wentworth's request proved a real boon for the saints living then and now because it generated both the brief history of the rise of the Church and what would become the Articles of Faith.
The thirteen statements in the original newspaper article were without title. They simply constituted the last thirteen paragraphs in what historian B. H. Roberts would later call, "The Wentworth Letter." Roberts edited Joseph Smith's History of the Church. He entitled chapter 31 "The Wentworth letter" and, in a note on the first page of the chapter, referred to the work as the "Wentworth Letter," which he put in quotation marks, showing that it was a derived title (see Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1932-1951], 4:535). Technically, none of this material constitutes a letter. Rather, it is a brief history of the Church that the Prophet sent to Wentworth. It was most likely accompanied by a cover letter, but that has not survived.
This history, with its statements of belief, shows once again the power of inspiration resting upon the Prophet. He knew both his audience and the task at hand. He was writing to a reading public composed exclusively of nonmembers who, by and large, knew the Church only through secondary or tertiary accounts, many of them less than sympathetic. The Prophet, therefore, chose his topics carefully so that each addressed a major religious issue pertinent in the spiritual climate at the time. Thus, these thirteen paragraphs are short, decisive, and positive statements based on the issues of the day. He did not design the paragraphs as comprehensive treatises but as concise, clear statements. Anything more may have muddied the issues and confused readers, leaving them with a less favorable impression of what the Latter-day Saints believed. The articles, as they stand, communicate clearly the position of the Church and continue to serve us well.
We do not know whether the information ever reached Barstow or whether the history was ever published by Wentworth. Barstow did publish his history in 1844, but it mentions neither Joseph Smith nor the Mormons. His study ends, however, in 1819, well before the saints influenced the area. The history may have been published by Wentworth, but that is doubtful. The 1871 Chicago fire destroyed all but scattered issues of the Chicago Democrat. None of those that remain contains Joseph Smith's history. There is evidence, however, that Wentworth did receive the information he requested of Joseph. A brief article did appear in the Democrat that was copied into the April 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons, shortly after the history would have been sent. In it, Wentworth gave a brief recap of Joseph Smith's early life that seems to have been heavily based on the Prophet's written history. It is fortunate that the history was published in the Times and Seasons, for that preserved this treasure for future generations.
In the paragraph just preceding the articles of belief, Joseph Smith identified the ground on which they stood. He declared that the saints believe "the Bible to say what it means and mean what it says," and that the Church is "guided by revelation according to the ancient order of the fathers." That statement made it clear to the Prophet's audience that the faith of the saints was anchored both in ancient scripture and modern revelation.
Joseph Smith's material, had it been printed by Barstow, would have met an urgent need. Many in New England were confused about the church's beliefs, some insisting the saints were not even Christians. The church's detractors branded its members as "Mormons." This led to a general confusion of the Church with the Mohammedans (Muslims). Making matters worse, the Latter-day Saints referred to Joseph Smith as "the Prophet," a title the Muslims applied to Muhammad. Joseph Smith's simple yet clear statements of belief would have set the record straight.
The Publication of the Articles of Faith
Because they were not directly tied to the brief history, the articles lent themselves to separate publication. As mentioned, the first time they appeared alone was in 1842, the same year Joseph Smith sent them to Wentworth. John Hayward, a nonmember religious historian, privately published a book titled The Book of Religions. He included a three-page piece dealing with the "Mormonites." His information, he told his readers, came directly from various Latter-day Saint publications. He included Joseph Smith's statements of belief, which he copied directly from the Times and Seasons.
Some of the church's missionaries saw value in the articles as a contacting or "tracting" tool. I. R. Foster and John E. Page, serving missions in New York, published them with the history in 1844 in a piece they titled "Correspondence between Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and Colonel John Wentworth." The whole was lifted from the March 1, 1842, and January 1, 1844, issues of the Times and Seasons.
The year 1844 saw another printing of the articles, once again outside the Church. On September 7, 1843, Joseph Smith noted in his journal that he had been contacted by I. Daniel Rupp, who was composing a work on religions in America and wanted something on the Latter-day Saints. Since the Wentworth material had already been prepared and printed and since it fit nicely into the criteria Rupp had specified, it was natural for Joseph Smith to send him a copy. The Prophet rewrote the first paragraph and added a few items to meet the needs of the new audience. Rupp's book, He Pasa Ekklesia [The Whole Church]: An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States, was published the next year, and Joseph Smith's material appeared as entry 23 under the heading "Latter Day Saints" running from pages 404 to 410. Rupp reprinted his book in 1854, including Joseph Smith's history and also a letter from the Prophet dated June 5, 1844, thanking Rupp for a copy of his book and noting that Joseph would "be pleased to furnish further information, at the proper time, and render you such service as the work, and vast extension of our church may demand, for the benefit of truth, virtue, and holiness" (Rupp, 348).
The British Mission, headquartered in Liverpool, England, was the next to publish the statements of belief. The mission president, Orson Pratt, slightly modified some of the statements and added an additional statement of belief as follows: "We believe in the literal resurrection of the body, and the dead in Christ will raise first, and that the rest of the dead live not again until the thousand years are expired." This was printed in a broadside (a single page notice printed only one side) entitled, "The Latter-day Saints' Belief." These fourteen statements were later published by J. H. Flannigan in a tract called Mormonism Triumphant. He titled them "Latter Day Saint's Faith." This version, popularly called "The Fourteen Articles of Faith," found its way to the states. On February 20, 1850, Orson Hyde published it in the church's newspaper, The Frontier Guardian, in Kanesville, Iowa.
When Franklin D. Richards was preparing material for the Pearl of Great Price, he chose to use the thirteen articles as written by the Prophet. This seems natural, since his intent was to publish items generated by Joseph Smith. The list appeared as the second-to-last entry and without a title, the heading over the section reading simply "'Times and Seasons,' Vol. III, page 709."
It was Orson Pratt's version that was published next. The editors of the Millennial Star, from their office in Liverpool, printed a broadside in 1852 titled "The Latter-day Saints' Belief." The chief editor had expanded the information to include scriptural citations and other references showing readers the biblical basis for each one. The piece ended with a question: "Reader, is there any principle in this above that is dangerous to the peace and happiness of society? If not, why cast our names out with reproach for the Son of Man's sake - Luke vi, 23."
By 1854, Elder Pratt's fourteen statements had made their way halfway around the world. That year, the Australian mission, headquartered in Sidney, published the articles in its paper, Zion's Watchman. The editors titled their version "Faith and Doctrine of the Latter-day Saints with Scriptural Proofs." It was not the same as the 1852 English broadside, but it did include, as the title suggests, scriptural annotations supplied by the editors for additional study by the saints. This Australian version found its way back to England that same year. The English mission produced a pamphlet entitled, He that Readeth, Let Him Understand that included the Australian version verbatim as its closing section.
As popular as Elder Pratt's version was, Joseph Smith's original would remain the standard. In Utah, church historian George A. Smith prepared Joseph Smith's History of the Church for republication. The church newspaper, Deseret News Weekly, carried the republication in a series. On September 5, 1854, Elder Smith prepared an article for the newspaper titled "For the Faith of the Church" that contained the Wentworth history, including the Articles of Faith. By writing a separate article, Elder Smith called special attention to the Wentworth material. He had a number of reasons for doing so. Joseph Smith's summary contained important materials that Elder Smith did not want the saints to miss. Further, like Orson Pratt, Elder Smith took occasion to make an addition. After acknowledging Joseph Smith as the author of the thirteen statements, Elder Smith appended one of his own dealing with plural marriage. The statement seemed necessary since the Church was openly practicing polygamy.
The editors of the Millennial Star, believing that the British saints would also benefit from reading the Prophet's history, reprinted the Deseret News series. On February 21, 1857, they too published the Wentworth history with the accompanying articles of belief, including Elder Smith's addition.
That was the last time the statements would appear in print for the next twenty years. Then, in 1877, as noted earlier, Orson Pratt recommended printing an American edition of the Pearl of Great Price. After receiving permission from acting church president John Taylor, Pratt went to work. Even though he had made his own version of the articles in 1849, he used those Richards had published in the original Pearl of Great Price. He did, however, add a title, calling the section "Articles of Our Faith." This title was modified in the 1888 edition to read "Articles of Faith."
The final title, as we know it today, appeared first in the 1902 edition of the Pearl of Great Price compiled by James E. Talmage under the direction of the First Presidency. It was Elder Talmage who gave the section the name "The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Since 1902, the Articles of Faith have been reprinted separately many times. Millions have been printed on small cards used for memorization and missionary purposes. Through them, the Articles have seen a very wide international distribution.
It should be noted that nowhere in Joseph Smith's recorded sermons do we ever find him using or referring to the Articles of Faith. Given the popularity of the Articles today, that may seem surprising, but it really should not be. The Prophet never intended them for church use. They were neither a list of nor a comprehensive treatment of church doctrine that the saints needed. They were addressed to a non-Mormon audience to teach the curious and interested where the Church stood on certain important issues. Since most members of the Church already knew the issues and the Church's stand, the Prophet seems to have felt no need to bring them to anyone's attention.
Issues Addressed by the Articles of Faith
As noted above, the Articles of Faith addressed critical issues that had been aflame among American Christians for decades. After the Revolutionary War, as churches began to lose direct political authority, they began to reorganize on the basis of persuasion rather than coercion. Many were concerned with the spreading rationlism often referred to as "natural religion" growing out of the Enlightenment. This "religion" rejected, among other things, miracles and the divine sonship of the Savior. More conservative Christians found such views shocking and branded them as "infidel." They launched a vigorous and widespread crusade against it. The result was a storm of words, a deluge of published materials, and a flood of fervent missionary efforts resulting in what historians call "the Second Great Awakening," the first having taken place a half-century earlier in 1740. Religious revivals and fervent proselytizing marked an era lasting more than three decades.
Following the Revolutionary War, many religious Americans continued to cling to the belief that the welfare of the state (and especially the United States) depended on general righteousness and commonly shared religious beliefs of its citizens. That belief forced many religionists to soften their claim to exclusive rights to the truth. Some yielded to the idea of "a brooding higher unity" over-mastering all that was going on. The forces of sectarianism and exclusivism, some insisted, was a great "hindrance" to the cause and a "quencher" of the spirit of unity needed if God were to protect the nation and, more especially, establish his kingdom upon the earth. As a result, many tried not to dwell upon sectarian differences or be "sticklish" about certain points of doctrine.
Growing out of this tendency, in the early 1800s, was a push among a broad spectrum of enthusiasts to unite all into one single Christian community devoid of any sects. These appealed to the Bible alone as the basis of pure religion and the ground of all faith. Their detractors called them "Primitivists" because scholars referred to the biblical period of church history as the "primitive era." The title, less pejorative than it sounds to more modern ears, provided a good epithet, or characterizing word used in place of the actual name, describing those in the unification movement, and so it stuck.
Many among the old established religions-especially Congregationalists, Catholics, and Anglicans-resisted the movement toward unity and primitivism. Their response was a firm refusal to yield any of their theological territory or soften any point of doctrine. The push and shove of the various religious bodies resulted in anything but the unity in Christ that the Primitivists sought. In some areas this fervor even developed into intense intolerance that fueled rancor, hatred, bigotry, and mob action.
Disregarding the ill effects of divided religion, good souls kept pushing their cause. The result was a proliferation of reformation societies-Bible societies, missionary societies, abolition of slavery societies, and temperance societies-all of whom wanted to make the nation more God-fearing and righteous. Their energy and membership grew out of the belief held by many that the Lord's second coming and the great millennial era were close at hand. Their task, then, was to prepare the world for the coming of the Lord. An excitement took hold in many areas, and religious revivals and missionary work moved forward with almost frenetic pace.
The result, however, was not all that some hoped for. A large number of people reacted against this excitement, which seemed to them fanatical and even menacing. They developed an "anti-mission" stance that resulted in a nationwide backlash against sectarianism and reformation societies. These people looked for answers outside the established churches and their revivals. Most stayed aloof from any formal religion, while others moved into "the primitive gospel" movement, which readily accepted them. The "Primitivists" dismissed all historical developments within Christianity. Some even insisted that these had corrupted the pure church and made it apostate. Only a restoration of New Testament authority and its organization could solve the problem. The result of the religious fervor and subsequent backlash was a spiritual insecurity among many. People were highly motivated to find answers that would assuage their fears. Joseph Smith's direct and simple statements of belief were designed to provide those answers.
1 We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
Article 1 - In order to place this Article of Faith in its proper context, it is important for the reader to understand the "Trinitarian-Unitarian controversy" which was disturbing the religious community of much of the eastern seaboard and more especially the New England states at the time of Joseph Smith.
Those who held to the Trinitarian view basically believed in one of the variants of the "trinity" doctrine. This doctrine stated that God consisted of three separate divine individuals (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost) that existed in some type of union. Most believed that the three beings were consubstantial or of one substance. Others believed that there were three divine beings united in one Godhead.
The trinitarian view was considered the conservative view and characterized the Catholics and most protestants including the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians.
According to the Unitarian view, God consisted of one eternal power without division of substance or person. Hence, Jesus was not really divine; not a member of the Godhead; and not the literal Son of God. Rather he was a great Rabbi or thinker whose ethical and moral models should be followed simply because he had come to understand God's character, doctrine, and ethics with greater clarity than any other person. Also the Holy Ghost is God's power or influence, but not a separate entity. This view was considered the liberal view, and its adherents were referred to as "modernists." This religious philosophy is also referred to as Arianism, as it is based on the teachings of Arius, a religionist of the third and fourth centuries, AD. In Joseph's day, this view would have been espoused by Calvinists and some Congregationalists. This modernist view has continued to evolve and may be identified today as not too dissimilar from humanists and even Muslims.
Article 1 does not teach all of the particulars of the doctrine of the Godhead as we know it. Rather, it simply announces that we do not accept the "modernist" or Unitarian point of view, and that we are firmly in the camp of the conservative Trinitarians. It underscores our biblical view of Jesus as the only begotten Son of God and establishes the Church as fully Christian. It also implies that our doctrine of the Godhead derives not from philosophical debate but from a purely biblical understanding.
2 We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
Article 2 - Both Catholics and Calvinist Protestants believed that the greatest calamity that ever happened to humankind was Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden. In consequence, all humankind became "depraved" from the taint of this "original sin." This meant that by their very nature, all men were enemies to God and enemies of all righteousness. Each person was, at best, a "lost soul" and at worst "a child of wrath." As a result, all deserved to be damned, and it was only through the grace of God that any would ever be saved.
Growing out of this false doctrine was the belief that infants were born damned and, unless they were baptized, they would suffer in hell forever. Baptism (sprinkling in some sects), however, offset the effects of the Fall and removed the inherited "taint."
This doctrine bothered many who wondered why baptism was available to some but not to most. Calvinists side-stepped this question by allowing that baptism was not entirely necessary. They preached the doctrine or predestination or predeterminism, which insisted that God predetermined who would go to heaven and who would go to hell. Humans, therefore, had no agency. Good came only through the irresistible grace of God acting upon his favorites, enabling them to throw off the curse of the fall and follow him to heaven.
The doctrine of the basic depravity of the human soul, though widely spread, was not without its detractors. Preachers, particularly Baptists, making their way through the New England states, attacked the idea of predeterminism, insisting that it was out of harmony with the character of God. These ministers proclaimed infant baptism a damnable practice and decried sprinkling as an apostate form of baptism. The real ordinance, they insisted, had to be done for adults by full immersion. Methodist ministers also taught against this doctrine, insisting that God had given humankind "free will" or agency. This agency, they proclaimed, meant that people could seek for salvation on their own and, through accepting the grace of God, actually find it.
Joseph Smith composed the second article to show readers exactly where the Church stood on this highly debated issue. Those reading this Article of Faith knew that the saints came down on the side of free will or agency and that they opposed any form of predeterminism. Therefore by inference, they understood that the Church rejected infant baptism and sprinkling. With just a few words, the Prophet taught his readers that the Church held the very positive view that all were responsible for their salvation in compliance with biblical teachings.
3 We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
Article 3 - Article of Faith Three counters two major false doctrines being taught at the time of Joseph Smith.
- The idea of predeterminism led many Christians into the false idea that only those whom God predestined would come under the Lord's redemptive power. All others would remain under the curse of damnation caused by Adam's "disgraceful fall." Many of the Christian communities accepted the false doctrine of a "limited atonement" without questions. Others, particularly the Methodists and Baptists rejected this view. They found it to be incongruous with the clear declarations of the Bible and, more especially, the life and ministry of the Lord. They insisted that the idea of a limited atonement acted as a stumbling block to people's faith in the Savior. They further questioned how a just God could limit salvation to the chosen few. They insisted that humankind was innocent because people neither participate in nor had any control over what Adam did. Blanket condemnation was unjust, and unjust was something God could not be. In this article, Joseph announces that the Church does not accept the idea of predeterminism and "limited atonement" with the statement "through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved" (italics mine).
- Most of those Christians who rejected the idea of a "limited atonement" were ensnared in another false doctrine. This doctrine was that salvation was available to all men, and that it came from little more than verbally accepting the Lord as one's Savior. In this article Joseph avows that salvation is available to all, but that in order to merit salvation, one must be obedient to the "laws and ordinances of the Gospel." In other words, a man's works are vital in addition to the grace of God 2 Nephi 25:23).
4 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.
Article 4 In article 3, Joseph Smith mentioned saving ordinances. Notice that he ties article 4 to article 3 by saying, "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are." He then lists them-two principles and then two ordinances. The words of this article show that the Latter-day Saints of Joseph's day believed in and held the keys to these important ordinances in the salvation process.
Joseph Smith's full intent in this article can best be understood in light of another controversy agitating New England and other regions. A prominent Scottish-Irish minister, Alexander Campbell, brought certain theological ideas with him when he immigrated to the United States. Among these was the rejection of both infant baptism and limited atonement. He found, however, that Presbyterian congregations did not appreciate his very liberal views. He soon split with them and joined the Baptists. Here, too, he ran afoul of the mainstream because he began to preach that the fulness of the gospel was not on the earth and that the true church no longer existed. His "primitivist" views led him to teach that all Christians must return to the pure religion of the Bible. All creeds, catechisms, and prayer books, he insisted, needed to be abandoned because they stood in the way of truth.
He boldly requested that all Christian churches join with him in importuning God to restore, once more, the pure and primitive Christianity of the Bible with all its ancient powers and authority. He assured his readers and congregations that, through revelation, God would restore the ancient order if the Christian community prepared itself. He insisted that the biblical church was grounded in four principles that had to be universally accepted by all: faith, repentance, immersion baptism, and the bestowal of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. For the first three, he taught, Christians already had authority. The last, however, demanded power that was no longer on the earth. Only a restoration would bring the needed authority by which the higher spiritual gifts of God could be had once more. He felt confident that if all Christians would unitedly accept the first three principles and then petition God as a body, the Lord would restore, through revelation, his church with its power.
Campbell's ideas resonated with some, but most Baptists found them unsettling and refused to associate with him or his congregations. In response, he and his followers began calling themselves "Reformed Baptists." This move, however, did not sit well with the Baptists at large, and they soon forced Campbell and his followers completely out of the Baptist Association. Campbell's people began to call themselves, among other titles, "Disciples of Christ" or "the Church of the Disciples of Christ." Their detractors, however, loath to give them any Christian legitimacy, nicknamed them the "Campbellites."
The movement found adherents in the thousands and spread over much of the northeast. A number of strong and capable individuals were drawn to Campbell and became preachers in his church. Among them were Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, and Orson Hyde.
When Barstow sought information for his book (see the introductory commentary for the Articles of Faith, the ideas of Campbell were being discussed, debated, damned, and blessed. The movement had become well organized and widespread, and it was forcefully working its way into Calvinist New England. As a result, many were well aware of it and also curious. Because Mormonism was tied to the restoration idea, some saw the Church as an offshoot of the "Campbellite" movement.
Though Article 4 stood as printed in the Times and Seasons for sixty years with only slight modification, 1902 saw a substantial change through the careful work of James E. Talmage. In 1893, he was teaching a religion class at the LDS College in Salt Lake City. In the course, he began to question the wording of the fourth article. It stated, "We believe the first ordinances of the gospel are" and then listed the four. Talmage felt that listing faith and repentance as ordinances was incorrect and made an appointment with the First Presidency and three members of the Quorum of the Twelve. At a meeting on November 29, 1893, in the Salt Lake Temple, Talmage presented his concerns, insisting that faith and repentance were principles, that baptism and the laying on of hands were ordinances, and that the article should reflect those ideas. He wrote in his journal:
I brought before the Presidency, asking for a ruling, the following subjects: . . . The changing of article 4 of the Articles of Faith from the old form: "4. We believe that these ordinances 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" so as to designate faith and repentance in some other way than as ordinances which they are not. The following form was adopted. "4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance; (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; (4) Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Hand-written journal 1893, 105, found in special collections at BYU).
In 1902, Brother Talmage was called to edit the Pearl of Great Price and introduced the approved changes in article 4.
In Joseph Smith's day, all four items were probably seen as both principles and ordinances. The Prophet himself placed them in both camps. In the History of the Church (6:57) he calls all four "principles," while in the Times and Seasons (3 March 1842, 709) he calls all four "ordinances." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1842 they could have been considered both (s.v. "ordinances," definition 5b). It would seem that, by 1893, definitions had solidified to the point that Brother Talmage's interpretation and recommendations were accepted.
Joseph Smith used article 4, with others, to distinguish the saints from the Campbellites. Though he showed that the Church agreed with Campbell in accepting faith, repentance, and baptism, he taught the careful reader that the Church possessed the authority to bestow the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. That declaration clearly separated the Church from the Disciples of Christ. Further, through this declaration, the attentive reader would see that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints saw itself as the restored church about which Campbell and his people had been preaching.
5 We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
Article 5 - "a man must be called of God" From the time of the Reformation on, Protestants came to believe that God called individuals to the ministry through personal inspiration. Thus, there was no official setting apart or granting of powers. How then, their detractors asked, was authority bestowed? In response, certain sects began to preach the idea of a "priesthood for all believers," an authority they felt God bestowed at the time of the call. As a result, a number of sects preached that anyone who sincerely believed he was called to the ministry automatically received the necessary authority. In other words, the call itself guaranteed that the person had blessing and priesthood. Others said simply that God accepted good intentions in lieu of ordination.
The Catholics and Calvinists, among others, insisted that ordination was essential. Unless a person received the laying on of hands, he did not hold authority. The debates that ensued caused many to ask searching questions. Some could not see how a "call" bestowed any kind of power. Others insisted that the sincerity of the minister was evidence that he held the keys of salvation for his followers.
Campbellite ministers sat on the fence. As shown above, they frankly admitted that God's authority was not fully on the earth, yet they believed that God would recognize the efficacy of their baptisms. Though they did not yet possess additional authority, they believed that, in time, God would grand power to bestow the Holy Ghost.
By and large, the Christian communities felt that some kind of formal training and religious apprenticeship was necessary, and a number of theological schools and seminaries turned out men well trained for the ministry.
With article 5, Joseph Smith showed readers where the Latter-day Saints stood on yet another important and debated issue. According to this article, a call to service did not come to one simply on the basis of personal desire. A call had to be extended by an officer of the Church. Further, God recognized as binding only those gospel ordinances performed through the authority of the priesthood. This short but very positive statement set the Church apart from practically every other Christian denomination. It showed that God's authority comes through the channels he dictates and that the priesthood is necessary for any ordinance to be accepted by him.
Calls, however, were not devoid of revelation. Men and women were called "by prophecy," that is, by the will of God. His will, however came not to the individual but to the leader, who then extended the call to serve. Further, once called, the person had to be set apart by church leaders. These actions ensured that proper authority was given and order maintained.
When Joseph Smith wrote the article, he placed quotation marks around the phrase "prophecy, and by the laying on of hands," thus emphasizing the importance of inspiration so necessary for those who made divine appointments in the Lord's kingdom.
This article saw two editorial changes. First, in some editions (1849, 1850, 1852, 1854) the words "called of God" are replaced by "duly commissioned of God," emphasizing the need for proper ordination in order to act. Second, Joseph Smith did not put a comma after the word "authority." As it originally read, the article stated that one is commissioned by those who are in authority to preach and administer the gospel. Orson Pratt inserted a comma, thus causing it to read that, once a person is commissioned, he or she could preach and administer the gospel. This version stood until 1921, when Elder Talmage removed the comma to make the article conform with the original printing. Beginning in 1973, the church translators, among others, felt a need for clarification of the article's intent. The Church Scripture Committee resolved the problem by authorizing the reinsertion of the comma.
6 We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
Article 6 - "the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church" We have mentioned those in Joseph Smith's day called Primitivists. They were often charismatic preachers who had what may be termed an "anti-clerical" (anti-clergy) bias. This means that they sought to abolish the difference between clergy and laity. They believed that the organization which existed in the Savior's primitive church included a hierarchy of church officers in which the laity of the church participated. These included apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and deacons. They also believed that those churches with professional clergy were corrupt and apostate. These believed that there had to be a restoration not only of New Testament authority but also of church organization to curb the problem.
Among these preachers were the Campbellites. Their voices rang clear that there had to be a restoration of all things, and that included the ancient church organization. They, however, made no move in that direction, believing that divine direction had not yet been given. Other sects did. For example, the Catholic Apostolic Church, better known as the Irvingites, established their quorum of twelve apostles in 1834 and also called officers as pastors, evangelists, and deacons to conform to the New Testament pattern.
The LDS Church Scripture Committee authorized only two changes to this article, replacing the more archaic "viz" with "namely," and the "&c" with "and so forth."
The Prophet reached back to the Bible and, in this direct and simply statement, echoed Ephesians 4:11-14. The primitive church was founded on apostles and prophets. Therefore, the restored Church of Christ would follow that model. Joseph made no attempt to define the duties or rank of the offices, nor did he include such things as the quorum of First Presidency. It would have taken many pages to contrast the Latter-day Saint organization with those of the other churches, and Joseph felt no need to do so. His purpose was to show the reader that the church's organization was anchored in the Bible. It would not be a church of presbyters (individuals who combine preaching, priestly, and administrative functions), but one that was patterned after God's order. The "&c" (and so forth) at the end of the original printing showed that the church organization in some aspects would continue to expand and change according to revelation but not leave its biblical roots.
7 We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
Article 7 - For many Christians, the heavens were sealed. God had spoken in the Bible for the last time, and revelations had ceased. Visions and prophecy were a thing of the past. It was true, some believed, that God communicated through quiet manifestations of his Spirit, but angels no longer visited people, nor did the heavens open.
Others, however, believed that God still worked with people through strong manifestations of his Spirit. For example, the rise of "spiritual rapping" in the early eighteenth century caused quite a stir among many religionists. The verb rap is an archaic one which means to transport with rapture. A number of sects, related to the Pentecostals of today, delighted in and capitalized on these rappings as evidence that the Spirit of God operated with them. These and other sects found delight in "ecstatic babbling" and "speaking in tongues." Some, such as the "Shakers," believed that the power of God manifested itself through movements, gyrations, and even contortions of the body.
Some religionists, like the Campbellites, felt that these sects were "crude" and that more direct means of revelation were possible. Though God had not yet restored his church to the earth, the Campbellites preached, once the Christian communities were sufficiently prepared and united, God's voice would be heard and the full authority would come.
Other sects, particularly the Methodists, viewed revelation as a gradual unfolding of often hidden biblical truths. Insights and understandings came subtly and quietly to the soul as one reads and pondered the scriptures. Nearly all agreed, however, that a theophany, an open vision of God, was out of the question.
Joseph Smith found the extremes of the Shakers and others disgusting, and he insisted that the Lord did not manifest his Spirit through babblings, gyrations, and confusion. Even so, he knew and acknowledged that the Holy Spirit did work upon God's people and that the biblical gifts were once again restored to the earth. These were "signs of faith" that accompanied the true believer. Nothing in article 7 discounts revelation or prophecy from being a gradual unfolding of understanding. The Prophet's words, however, who that there are times when God reveals his will suddenly, fully, and directly.
The Prophet showed his good judgment in not elaborating on or defining the various gifts but simply in confirming that the Latter-day Saints accepted the used them. By adding visions, revelations, and prophecy to the list, Joseph Smith told his readers that the Church knew that the heavens were open and that God spoke to his people.
8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
Article 8 - "as far as it is translated correctly" From the days of the Renaissance, a growing number of people came to question the Bible and its authority. By the eighteenth century, certain vocal individuals even questioned its divinity and authenticity. The more extreme went so far as to assert that, because of improper transmission and translation, the Bible had little truth remaining in it.
In general, however, most Christians held to a cautious biblical authoritarianism, meaning that they accepted the Bible in large part as their standard of belief. That did not mean, however, that improvements could not be made. In an attempt to overcome deficiencies, some ministers and academics produced their own versions, feeling free to either excise materials they found objectionable or to add textual clarifications.
Some felt that they could improve on the archaic King James English to help people better understand the scriptures. Among these was Alexander Campbell, who went so far as to make an American colloquial edition. The more conservative Christians were scandalized by it, but Campbell's followers found it helpful and readable. Most were less cavalier in their approach, trying to keep their translations as close as they could to the preserved sources.
There were others, however, who took a very different view of the Bible. These felt that God's hand had been in it from the beginning. They insisted that the Bible was virtually error free. The preserved texts, even in translation, remained unsullied. As a result, the old book reflected the full and complete word of God with nothing deleted or lacking. Because it was, therefore, inerrant, it was fully authoritative in all matters.
Many who had heard about the Church knew of Joseph Smith's "gold bible." Rumors circulated about what it contained, but few had actually read it. Because Joseph Smith was regularly compared to Muhammad, many assumed that the Book of Mormon, like the Koran, replaced the Bible.
In article 8, Joseph Smith declared that the saints had not rejected the Bible. However, they did not hold it inerrant, either. The old book manifested problems because of improper transmission and translation. Nevertheless, it was a canonical standard for the saints. Joseph went on to boldly proclaim that the Church did accept another standard. His wording revealed to the careful reader that the saints accepted the Book of Mormon as properly translated and transmitted. The Bible, therefore, did not stand alone. What weaknesses it had were overcome in the new volume of God's word.
9 We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
Article 9 - Joseph had already declared that the saints believed in revelation, visions, and prophecy (see Article of Faith 7 and its commentary). In this article, he underscores that belief. A number of religious leaders professed divine revelation in starting their religions. Among these were John of Lyden (leader of Anabaptist cult in Muenster, Germany in 1533-34 who practiced polygamy), Mother Ann Lee (Shakers), George Rapp (leader of a group of religious separatists from Germany in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1805; followers known as "Harmonists" or "Rappists), and Father William Miller. The latter was an articulate and charismatic minister. He brought thousands under his banner. Using his interpretation of the scriptures, he calculated that the second coming of the Lord, followed by the Millennium, would begin in March 1843. Some estimate that a million people were influenced by the prophecies of Miller and anxiously awaited the coming of the Lord. None of these self-professed "prophets," however, claimed to receive revelation that was ongoing.
Joseph Smith wrote this article not many months before the "rapture" predicted by William Miller. This article proclaims that the saints believe in ongoing revelation. God's revelations, however, did not confirm Miller's expected advent. In fact, Joseph Smith and the saints would have nothing to do with the Millennialists. Joseph declared to all the world that the saints were not left to speculate and grope through the Bible for answers as Miller had to do. The Lord revealed his will directly, unmistakably, and continually to his Church.
10 We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
Article 10 - "the earth will be renewed" That the Latter-day Saints had nothing to do with the Millennialists did not mean they rejected the idea of the Millennium or believed that it would not take place in the future. They shared with many a decidedly millennialist perspective toward events of the day, believing the Second Advent was not too distant.
By 1835, a number of ministers were pushing the idea that the United States would play an important role in bringing to pass the millennial glory. The Lord's kingdom would begin here and spread to the rest of the earth. The despotism and wickedness so common in the world precluded it from such an honor. America, however, the champion of religious liberty, democratic government, and free institutions, was the ideal place from which God could move his cause.
In a related vein, various groups debated about the aftermath of the second coming. Some, not accepting the idea of a temporal, thousand-year reign of the Lord, felt that his advent signaled the end of the earth. It would pass fully away, and the righteous would inherit a heavenly glory. Others maintained that the earth itself would become transformed as a celestial sphere.
The widespread furor caused by the Millerite movement in the early 1840s (see the commentary for Article of Faith 9) created an even more intense interest in the second coming and the Millennial reign of the Lord. Though Miller boasted thousands of followers, other Christians rejected his prophecies. Even among these, however, his work created great curiosity and discussion. Because of the Church's international growth, Article of Faith 10 has received a number of editorial changes. As originally published, the article did not define the term Zion. The Church Scripture Committee seems to have felt that clarification was necessary since the Bible refers to the New Jerusalem but gives little information. Joseph Smith taught that the city of Zion will eventually be built in Jackson County, Missouri.
In addition, the first printing of the article did not specify on which continent Zion would be built. The reference to "this continent" would have been clear to anyone reading the statement in North America but not the rest of the world. For that reason, the words "the American" were added. Later, the word "this" was removed, further globalizing the language used.
Given the excitement on the subject, it is not surprising that Joseph Smith addressed it. In his brief but clear statement, he made a number of points. First, the Church believed in the Lord's second coming. Further, the saints believed that the earth itself would be preserved and return to a paradisiacal state following the Lord's coming. Joseph clarified, however, that several important events must come first. Among these were the gathering of Israel and the building up of the New Jerusalem on the American continent. Therefore, in contrast to Miller, the saints were not expecting the second coming in the near future. The Prophet did not include the fact that the earth would undergo an additional transformation at the end of the millennial thousand years that would make it a celestial sphere, but he may have felt that he had addressed the issue at hand and any more information would frustrate his purposes.
11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Article 11 Throughout the early United States, idealists tended to view the nation as a place of religious tolerance and freedom. Though it was true that America on the whole was much more tolerant than many places in the world, the idealists' myopic view was far from the reality. Some areas in the colonies were as tradition-bound and intolerant as anyplace in Europe. Even the far less devout frontier was not free from bigotry and intolerance.
Exacerbating the problem, religion and politics were not far separated during this era. As a result, even people without strong religious views saw religionists whose political opinions did not coincide with theirs as threats. These non-religious people could, therefore, be just as rough-or even rougher-than the sectarians. Misplaced political and religious fervor led to mobbings and lynchings of Quakers, Shakers, Mormons, and other devout people.
Latter-day Saints, having felt the evils of bigotry, gathered to Nauvoo, where they carefully controlled all that went on. Nauvoo was becoming a city of note, and many were curious about how the saints felt about religious tolerance within their city, given all that had happened to them.
Article 11 addressed religious tolerance directly. A reader would have understood that the Church supported the idea that the state had no right to impose a belief system on its citizens. The powers of the state were, in the Mormon's view, therefore, limited to assuring religious freedom and not imposing a religious system. The reader also learned that, in spite of all the saints had been through, they yet honored the principle of tolerance as vital to religious worship. No sect that would honor the law and be respectful of the saints would be barred from Nauvoo.
12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
Article 12 - A large number of Americans saw the hand of God in the colonists' success in the Revolutionary War. As a result, they viewed the nation itself as having a divine aura, a pervasive holiness that separated it from other countries of the world. The belief that a divine hand was over civil matters blurred, in the eyes of many, the relationship between, and therefore loyalty to, church and state. As a result, a large number of Christians struggled to know where to place their highest allegiance. The state, they felt, was important, but how much loyalty did one give to it? Many of these people were descendants of those who had fled the Old World seeking religious freedom from tyrannical governments. They owed much to the state that guarded their religious freedoms and, as a result, some made political service almost their religion.
Others held to a very different view. The Savior had expressly stated, these other Christians believed, that his kingdom was not of this world. As a result, they felt, true Christians should have nothing to do with civil governments. They feared that service to the state was the same as trusting in the "arm of flesh" and, therefore, an affront to God. The most firm ranged from the Mennonites, who would not so much as vote or hold civil office, to the Quakers, who would cooperate with and support civil authorities except in military matters. They were strict conscientious objectors.
Many wondered about the Mormons. They were, according to popular view, a fringe religion. Some viewed their troubles with state authorities as a mark that they did not respect civil government.
Joseph Smith, in article 12, set the record straight, making it clear that the saints felt no tension between their religion and the state so long as the state protected their religious freedoms. Careful readers would see that Joseph Smith tied the church's attitude to Romans 12, where Paul admonished Christians to be subject to constituted authority. The Prophet's audience would understand that the saints would not shrink from civil responsibilities, including that of military service.
13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Article 13 - Joseph ended his articles with this very broad statement that touched on less-articulated issues of the day. He seems to have designed it to show his readers that the other twelve had not addressed all that the saints believed. This article also highlighted the saints' belief that true religion was more than a belief in an institution or dogma. In other words, devotion was more than mental ascent to a certain religious viewpoint. The Prophet showed that, at its heart, religion must be transformed into action and caring. Improved conduct, increased knowledge, and greater spirituality were the goals of the saints. Acquiring of these virtues had to be active, not passive-the saints were to "seek after" these things.
As one looks back in retrospect at the Articles of Faith, it is clear that God's hand acted upon his prophet. Hidden within the simplicity of these straightforward statements are eternal and invariable fundamentals. Joseph Smith designed each to explain to his audience where the newly-restored Church stood in regard to the most vital religious issues of the day. The Prophet did not limit or hedge them about with restrictions, but he also let readers know that the latter-day kingdom was growing, expanding, and adjusting to the times and mission God had set for it. Revelation would continue to be its guide. Eventually it would triumph, spreading to the world all that was of Christian goodness.
- Michael J. Preece