On March 20, 2012, Jeffrey R. Holland spoke to Harvard Law School at their request. He was invited to lecture on Mormonism 101, a very basic introduction to Mormonism for those who are not Mormon. After the lecture, he took questions from the students.
Mormon is only a nickname, one which can be properly applied to the members of the church but not to the church itself. The proper name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons generally refer to themselves as LDS (Latter-day Saint), not Mormon.
Jeffrey R. Holland, whose proper title is Elder Holland, is an apostle. When Jesus Christ established his church, he called twelve apostles to assist Him with His work and to testify of Him. Today, a prophet heads the earthly church since Jesus is no longer on the Earth, but Jesus Christ is still considered the head of the Church. You may recall that in Old Testament times a prophet always led God’s people. Since the Bible states that Jesus’ church must be built on the same platform as established by Jesus Christ Himself, the Mormons have a prophet and apostles to lead them.
Elder Holland began by describing the origins of the church, which began when a fourteen-year-old boy was confused about which church to join. When he read James 1:5 in the Bible, he knew he had found a solution—ask God when you need wisdom on a subject. As he prayed in the grove near his home, he received a visit from God and Jesus Christ, who told him none of the churches had the complete truth and so he must not join any of them. Later, when he was a few years older, an angel named Moroni came to tutor him in preparation for restoring the complete gospel.
There has been no question that doctrine altered and changed over the centuries and that people are in disagreement over very basic principles. Throughout history, church members would disagree over a point of doctrine and one group would leave and start a new church that operated on their own beliefs about how the Bible must be interpreted. This led to thousands of churches even within the Protestant tradition. As the Second Coming draws near, it is clear there is a need for a definitive voice and in the Bible, we learn that this voice must be that of a prophet of God. The Bible does not say there would be no further prophets after the Bible ended. It says, in fact, that God will do nothing except through His prophets.
Early in church history, there was a Protestant reformation. Many good people saw that corruption and misunderstanding had arisen in the existing church. These leaders were not prophets and never claimed to be. They were good men doing the best they could in a time of apostasy. They fought hard for their beliefs and helped to pave the way for freedom of religion in modern times, and for this, Mormons celebrate them. However, Mormons teach that a mere reformation is not enough. A restoration of all things must occur in order to get God’s church back on the proper path, and this is what the Mormons offer.
Elder Holland addressed the accusation that Mormons are not Christians with a straight-forward explanation of the topic:
“We are not considered “Christian” by some, I suppose, because we are not fourth-century Christians, we are not Athanasian Christians, we are not creedal Christians of the brand that arose hundreds of years after Christ. No, when we speak of “restored Christianity” we speak of the Church as it was, not as it became when great councils were called to debate and anguish over what it was they really believed. So if one means Greek-influenced, council-convening, philosophy-flavored Christianity of post-apostolic times, then we’re not that kind of Christian. Peter we know, and Paul we know, but Constantine and Athanasius, Athens and Alexandria generally we do not know. (Actually, we know them, we just don’t follow them.)”
A careful study of the complete Bible, not just selected verses, will demonstrate that many parts of modern Christianity are not found in the Bible. When one does not believe God is still speaking and clarifying, one must rely only on the Bible for information about truth. However, to use one common example, the word Trinity is not in the Bible. Nor is the formal definition of Trinity. This was added later in the fourth century councils to appease certain aspects of the growing religion and derived from philosophers, not the Bible. The Bible has too many instances in which it clearly demonstrates that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are entirely unique beings, unified in purpose, not physical aspect.
Elder Holland offered the following examples that demonstrate that God and Jesus Christ are separate beings:
“We take literally at His word that Christ ‘came down from heaven, not to do [His] own will, but the will of him that sent [him]’ (John 6:38). Of His antagonists Jesus said, they have ‘hated both me and my Father’ (John 15:24). And along with scores of other references, including His pleading prayers, Jesus repeatedly subordinated Himself to His Father, saying regularly in one way or another, ‘My father is greater than I’ (John 14:28). However, having made the point of Their separate and distinct physical nature, we declare unequivocally that They were indeed and are ‘one’ in every other conceivable way—in mind and deed, in will and wish and hope, in faith and purpose and intent and love. They are most assuredly much more alike than They are different in all the ways that I have just said, but they are separate and distinct beings as all fathers and sons are. In this matter we differ from traditional creedal Christianity, but we do feel we agree with the New Testament.”
Elder Holland concluded his talk by outlining some of the basic principles Mormons believe are part of that restoration, including the knowledge that we are sons and daughters of a loving God, that God planned for the atonement in order to make it possible for us to repent and to return home someday, and that what we do in our lives matters.
“Lastly, this plan, this divine course outlined for us—including the fortunate Fall in Eden and the redemption of Gethsemane and Calvary—is universally inclusive. All are children of the same God and all are included in His love and His grace. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Everyone is covered, though it remains to be seen whether everyone cares. But if there is a failure to respond, it won’t be because God didn’t try and Christ didn’t come. That is at the heart of what I have been introducing to you as the restored gospel.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.