Of the several topics that are covered in 3 Nephi 27-29 (what to call Christ’s church; the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the essence of the gospel; through the Savior’s Atonement we may stand spotless before God as we apply the first principles and ordinances of the gospel and endure to the end; Christ granting the Nephite disciples their righteous desires; the transfiguration and translation of three of the Nephite disciples), I think I had better spend my time on the topic that has been taught, emphasized, followed up on, and corrected in our day–THE CORRECT NAME OF THE CHURCH (3 Nephi 27).
President Russell M. Nelson initiated a renewed emphasis on using the full and proper name of the church beginning in August of 2018:
- 16 August 2018 – Salt Lake City, Official Statement: The Name of the Church | Church News: Church Releases Statement on How to Refer to the Organization
- 20 August 2018 – Montreal, Canada, Church News: We’re Correcting—Not Changing—the Church’s Name
- 21 August 2018 – Salt Lake City, Video: President Nelson Discusses the Name of the Church
- 7 October 2018 – Salt Lake City, General Conference: The Correct Name of the Church
- 7 October 2018 – Salt Lake City, News Release: President Nelson Stresses Importance of Jesus Christ in Church Name
- October 2018 – Updated Style Guide — The Name of the Church
The Correct Name of the Church
President M. Russell Ballard of the First Presidency had previously taught:
“I have thought a lot about why the Savior gave the nine-word name to His restored Church [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. It may seem long, but if we think of it as a descriptive overview of what the Church is, it suddenly becomes wonderfully brief, candid, and straightforward. How could any description be more direct and clear and yet expressed in such few words?
“Every word is clarifying and indispensable. The word The indicates the unique position of the restored Church among the religions of the world.
“The words Church of Jesus Christ declare that it is His Church. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus taught, “How be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man [like Mormon] then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8).
“Of Latter-day explains that it is the same Church as the Church that Jesus established during His mortal ministry but restored in these latter days. We know there was a falling away, or an apostasy, necessitating the restoration of His true and complete Church in our time.
“Saints means that its members follow Him and strive to do His will, keep His commandments, and prepare once again to live with Him and our Heavenly Father in the future. Saint simply refers to those who seek to make their lives holy by covenanting to follow Christ.
“The name the Savior has given to His Church tells us exactly who we are and what we believe. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. He atoned for all who would repent of their sins, and He broke the bands of death and provided the resurrection from the dead. We follow Jesus Christ. And as King Benjamin said to his people, so I reaffirm to all of us today, “Ye should remember to retain [His] name written always in your hearts” (Mosiah 5:12).” (“The Importance of a Name,” Ensign, Nov. 2011.)
The First Presidency has taught:
“The use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (D&C 115:4), is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible” (First Presidency letter, Feb. 23, 2001).
“In the October 2011 conference, I urged that we remember these important words of the Lord: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4)
“With these words, the Lord makes clear that this is not only a formal title but also the name by which His Church is to be called. Given His clear declaration, we should not refer to the Church by any other name, such as “Mormon Church” or “LDS Church.”
“The term Mormon can be appropriately used in some contexts to refer to members of the Church, such as Mormon pioneers, or to institutions, such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Church members are widely known as Mormons, and in interactions with those not of our faith, we may fittingly refer to ourselves as Mormons, provided we couple this with the full name of the Church.
“If members learn to use the correct name of the Church in connection with the word Mormon, it will underscore that we are Christians, members of the Savior’s Church.
“Brothers and sisters, let us follow up and develop the habit of always making it clear that we belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Following Up, Ensign, May 2014. Emphasis added.)
Here are a few entries from the Guide to the Scriptures that deal with the name of the Church and different parts of the name of the Church:
In the Book of Mormon, when Jesus Christ visited the righteous Nephites shortly after his resurrection, he said that his church should bear his name (3 Ne. 27:3–8). In modern times the Lord revealed the name of the Church to be “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4).
The name given to the Church of Christ in the latter-days to distinguish it from the Church in other dispensations.
An organized body of believers who have taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ by baptism and confirmation. To be the true Church it must be the Lord’s Church; must have his authority, teachings, laws, ordinances, and name; and must be governed by him through representatives whom he has appointed.
A faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The nickname Mormon was created by people who were not members of the Church to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The name given by the Lord by which members of the Church are to be known is “Saints.” (The Guide to the Scriptures, “Mormon(s)”). Sometimes we seek to be accepted by the Christian world by adopting the term, “Christian”. Although this term is commonly used throughout the world, the Lord has designated true followers of Christ as Saints (Acts 9:13, 32, 41; 1 Cor. 1:2; D&C 115:4) (see The Guide to the Scriptures, “Christians”).
What Is a Latter-day Saint?
“A Latter-day Saint is quite an ordinary individual. We are now everywhere in the world, 14 millions of us. And this is only the beginning. We are taught to be in the world but not of the world (see John 17:14–19). Therefore, we live ordinary lives in ordinary families mixed with the general population.
“We are taught not to lie or cheat or steal (see Exodus 20:3–17). We do not use profanity. We are positive and happy and not afraid of life.
“We are “willing to mourn with those that mourn . . . and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).
“If someone is looking for a church that requires very little, this is not the one. It is not easy to be a Latter-day Saint, but in the long run it is the only course.”
The Importance of a Name
Since last April’s general conference, my mind has repeatedly focused on the subject of the importance of a name. In these past few months, several great-grandchildren have come into our family. Although they seem to come faster than I can keep up with, each child is a welcome addition to our family. Each has received a special name chosen by his or her parents, a name to be known by throughout his or her lifetime, distinguishing him or her from anyone else. This is true in every family, and it is also true among the religions of the world.
The Lord Jesus Christ knew how important it was to clearly name His Church in these latter days. In the 115th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, He Himself named the Church: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (verse 4).
And King Benjamin taught his people in Book of Mormon times:
“I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. …
“And I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name that I said I should give unto you that never should be blotted out, except it be through transgression; therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress, that the name be not blotted out of your hearts” (Mosiah 5:8, 11).
We take the name of Christ upon us in the waters of baptism. We renew the effect of that baptism each week as we partake of the sacrament, signifying our willingness to take His name upon us and promising always to remember Him (see D&C 20:77, 79).
Do we realize how blessed we are to take upon us the name of God’s Beloved and Only Begotten Son? Do we understand how significant that is? The Savior’s name is the only name under heaven by which man can be saved (see 2 Nephi 31:21).
As you will remember, President Boyd K. Packer discussed the importance of the name of the Church in last April’s general conference. He explained that “obedient to revelation, we call ourselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than the Mormon Church” (“Guided by the Holy Spirit,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2011, 30).
Because the full name of the Church is so important, I echo the revelations from the scriptures, the First Presidency’s instructions in letters of 1982 and 2001, and the words of other Apostles who have encouraged the members of the Church to uphold and teach the world that the Church is known by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the name by which the Lord will call us at the last day. It is the name by which His Church will be distinguished from all others.
I have thought a lot about why the Savior gave the nine-word name to His restored Church. It may seem long, but if we think of it as a descriptive overview of what the Church is, it suddenly becomes wonderfully brief, candid, and straightforward. How could any description be more direct and clear and yet expressed in such few words?
Every word is clarifying and indispensable. The word The indicates the unique position of the restored Church among the religions of the world.
The words Church of Jesus Christ declare that it is His Church. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus taught: “And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man [like Mormon] then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8).
Of Latter-day explains that it is the same Church as the Church that Jesus Christ established during His mortal ministry but restored in these latter days. We know there was a falling away, or an apostasy, necessitating the Restoration of His true and complete Church in our time.
Saints means that its members follow Him and strive to do His will, keep His commandments, and prepare once again to live with Him and our Heavenly Father in the future. Saint simply refers to those who seek to make their lives holy by covenanting to follow Christ.
The name the Savior has given to His Church tells us exactly who we are and what we believe. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. He atoned for all who would repent of their sins, and He broke the bands of death and provided the resurrection from the dead. We follow Jesus Christ. And as King Benjamin said to his people, so I reaffirm to all of us today: “Ye should remember to retain [His] name written always in your hearts” (Mosiah 5:12).
We are asked to stand as a witness of Him “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). This means that we must be willing to let others know whom we follow and to whose Church we belong: the Church of Jesus Christ. We certainly want to do this in the spirit of love and testimony. We want to follow the Savior by simply and clearly, yet humbly, declaring that we are members of His Church. We follow Him by being Latter-day Saints—latter-day disciples.
People and organizations are often given nicknames by others. A nickname may be a shortened form of a name, or it may be derived from an event or some physical or other characteristic. While nicknames do not have the same status or significance as actual names, they can be properly used.
The Lord’s Church in both ancient and modern times has had nicknames. The Saints in New Testament times were called Christians because they professed a belief in Jesus Christ. That name, first used derogatorily by their detractors, is now a name of distinction; and we are honored to be called a Christian church.
Our members have been called Mormons because we believe in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Others may try to use the word Mormon more broadly to include and refer to those who have left the Church and formed various splinter groups. Such use only leads to confusion. We are grateful for the efforts of the media to refrain from using the word Mormon in a way that may cause the public to confuse the Church with polygamists or other fundamentalist groups. Let me state clearly that no polygamist group, including those calling themselves fundamentalist Mormons or other derivatives of our name, has any affiliation whatsoever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While Mormon is not the full and correct name of the Church, and even though it was originally given by our detractors during our early years of persecution, it has become an acceptable nickname when applied to members rather than the institution. We do not need to stop using the name Mormon when appropriate, but we should continue to give emphasis to the full and correct name of the Church itself. In other words, we should avoid and discourage the term “Mormon Church.”
Through the years as I have filled assignments around the world, I have been asked many times if I belong to the Mormon Church. My response has been, “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Because we believe in the Book of Mormon, which is named after an ancient American prophet-leader and is another testament of Jesus Christ, we are sometimes called Mormons.” In every instance this response has been well received and in fact has opened up opportunities for me to explain the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel in these latter days.
Brothers and sisters, just think of what an impact we can have by simply responding by using the full name of the Church as the Lord has declared we should do. And if you cannot immediately use the full name, at least say, “I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ” and later explain “of Latter-day Saints.”
Some may ask, what about the Internet sites such as Mormon.org as well as various Church-initiated media campaigns? As I said, referring collectively to members as Mormons is sometimes appropriate. As a practical matter, those outside of our faith come looking for us searching for that term. But once you open up Mormon.org, the proper name of the Church is explained on the home page, and it appears on each additional page on the site. It is impractical to expect people to type the full name of the Church when seeking to find us or when logging on to our website.
While these practicalities may continue, they should not keep members from using the full name of the Church whenever possible. Let us develop the habit within our families and our Church activities and our daily interactions of making it clear that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the name by which the Lord Himself has directed that we be known.
A recent opinion poll indicated that far too many people still do not understand correctly that Mormon refers to members of our Church. And a majority of people are still not sure that Mormons are Christian. Even when they read of our Helping Hands work throughout the world in response to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and famines, they do not associate our humanitarian efforts with us as a Christian organization. Surely it would be easier for them to understand that we believe in and follow the Savior if we referred to ourselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this way those who hear the nameMormon will come to associate that word with our revealed name and with people who follow Jesus Christ.
As the First Presidency asked in their letter of February 23, 2001: “The use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … , is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible.”
Back in 1948 at the October general conference, President George Albert Smith said, “Brethren and sisters, when you go away from here, you may be associating with various denominations of the world, but remember that there is only one Church in all the world that by divine command bears the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1948, 167).
Brothers and sisters, may we also remember this as we leave conference today. Let our testimonies of Him be heard and our love for Him always be in our hearts, I humbly pray in His name, the Lord Jesus Christ, amen. (“The Importance of a Name,” Ensign, Nov. 2011.)
“Thus Shall My Church Be Called”
Today I would like to speak about a name. We are all pleased when our names are pronounced and spelled correctly. Sometimes a nickname is used instead of the real name. But a nickname may offend either the one named or the parents who gave the name.
The name of which I shall speak is not a personal name, yet the same principles apply. I refer to a name given by the Lord:
Note carefully the language of the Lord. He did not say, “Thus shall my church be named.” He said, “Thus shall my church be called.” Years ago, its members were cautioned by the Brethren who wrote: “We feel that some may be misled by the too frequent use of the term ‘Mormon Church.’” (Member-Missionary Class—Instructor’s Guide, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, p. 2.) Before any other name is considered to be a legitimate substitute, the thoughtful person might reverently consider the feelings of the Heavenly Parent who bestowed that name.
Surely every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord is precious. So each word in this name must be important—divinely designated for a reason. If we study the key words in that name, we can better understand the name’s full significance.
The last word in the title is Saints. I smile when I remember a comment made after my call to the Quorum of the Twelve. A doctor friend relayed a report made at a professional meeting that “Dr. Nelson was no longer practicing cardiac surgery because his church had made him ‘a saint.’”
The word Christian appears in only three verses of the King James Version of the Bible. One verse describes the historical fact that “disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26); another quotes a sarcastic nonbeliever, King Agrippa (see Acts 26:28); and the third indicates that one known as “a Christian” must be prepared to suffer (1 Pet. 4:16).
In contrast, the term saint (or saints) appears in thirty-six verses of the Old Testament and in sixty-two verses of the New Testament.
Paul addressed an epistle “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 1:1.)
In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul used the word saint at least once in every chapter!
Despite its use in ninety-eight verses of the Bible, the term saint is still not well understood. Some mistakenly think that it implies beatification or perfection. Not so! A saint is a believer in Christ and knows of His perfect love. The giving saint shares in a true spirit of that love, and the receiving saint accepts in a true spirit of gratitude. A saint serves others, knowing that the more one serves, the greater the opportunity for the Spirit to sanctify and purify.
A saint is tolerant, and is attentive to the pleadings of other human beings, not only to spoken messages but to unspoken messages as well. A saint is different from an individual whose response to a concern might be a selfish “What do I care” attitude. A real saint responds, “What? I docare!” Do is an action verb, and it becomes the driving force in the reply of one who will care for another in need. (See 1 Cor. 12:25–27; 2 Cor. 7:12.)
A saint “refrain[s] from idleness” (Alma 38:12) and seeks learning by study, and also by faith. Education not only helps in communication with others, but it enables one to discern truth from error, particularly through studying the scriptures. (See D&C 88:118.)
A saint is an honorable citizen, knowing that the very country which provides opportunity and protection deserves support, including prompt payment of taxes and personal participation in its legal political process. (See D&C 134:5.)
A saint resolves any differences with others honorably and peacefully and is constant in courtesy—even in traffic at the rush hour.
A saint shuns that which is unclean or degrading and avoids excess even of that which is good.
Perhaps above all, a saint is reverent. Reverence for the Lord, for the earth He created, for leaders, for the dignity of others, for the law, for the sanctity of life, for chapels and other buildings, are all evidences of saintly attitudes. (See Lev. 19:30; Alma 47:22; D&C 107:4; D&C 134:7.)
A reverent saint loves the Lord and gives highest priority to keeping His commandments. Daily prayer, periodic fasting, payment of tithes and offerings are privileges important to a faithful saint.
The term latter-day is an expression especially difficult for translators who labor in languages in which there is not a good equivalent term. Some translations may suggest last day.
It is true that scriptures foretell the final days of the earth’s temporal existence as a telestial sphere. The earth will then be renewed and receive its paradisiacal, or terrestrial, glory. (See A of F 1:10.) Ultimately, the earth will become celestialized. (See Rev. 21:1; D&C 77:1; D&C 88:25–26.) But its last days must be preceded by its latter days!
We live in those latter days, and they are really remarkable. The Lord’s Spirit is being poured out upon all inhabitants of the earth, precisely as the Prophet Joel foretold. His prophecy was of such significance that the angel Moroni reaffirmed it to the Prophet Joseph Smith. (See Joel 2:28–32;JS—H 1:41.)
For millennia, methods of farming, travel, and communication were largely unchanged from ancient techniques. Developments since the birth of Joseph Smith, however, have risen in remarkable contrast.
Joseph Smith had long been foreordained as God’s prophet for the restoration of the gospel in the fulness of times. (See 2 Ne. 3:7–15.) Twenty-five years after his birth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized.
Later in that same century, the telegraph was developed, the Atlantic Ocean was first crossed by a steamship, and the telephone, the automobile, and motion pictures were invented.
The twentieth century has been even more extraordinary. Farming has become mechanized.
Modern transportation allows travel to nearly any destination in the world within a day or two.
Computers have been developed that allow the Church to serve living members and to organize information relative to progenitors who live on the other side of the veil. People throughout the world, once little concerned with family history, now search for roots of their ancestral heritage using technologies unavailable a century ago.
Long-distance telephone, telefax, radio, television, and satellite communications have become routine. In these latter days it is possible for the word of the Lord to be broadcast from world headquarters of His Church and heard in the most remote areas of the globe.
The divine promise is being fulfilled that this restored “gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” (D&C 133:37.)
Political changes have occurred recently in many countries. Previous restrictions of personal liberties have been relieved. The shell of spiritual confinement has been shattered. Swelling shouts of freedom fill the air. Surely the hand of the Lord is apparent. He said, “I will hasten my work in its time” (D&C 88:73), and that time of hastening is now.
By divine directive, the title of the Church bears the sacred name of Jesus Christ, whose church this is. (See D&C 115:3–4.) He so decreed more than once. Nearly two thousand years ago, the Lord said, “Ye shall call the church in my name; …
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name?” (3 Ne. 27:7–8; italics added.)
We worship God the Eternal Father in the name of His Son by the power of the Holy Ghost. We know the premortal Jesus to be Jehovah, God of the Old Testament. We know Him to be “the chief corner stone” upon which the organization of His Church is based. (Eph. 2:20.) We know Him to be the Rock from whom revelation comes to His authorized agents (see 1 Cor. 10:4; Hel. 5:12) and to all who worthily seek Him (see D&C 88:63).
We know that He came into the world to do the will of His Father, who sent Him. (See 3 Ne. 27:13.) His divine mission was to effect the Atonement, which was to break the bands of death and enable us to receive immortality and eternal life.
The living Lord’s divine mission still continues. One day we will stand before Him in judgment. He has foretold that event:
“Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.” (3 Ne. 27:16.)
We revere the name of Jesus Christ. He is our risen Redeemer.
The first two words of the name the Lord chose for His earthly organization are The Church.
Note that the article The begins with a capital letter. This is an important part of the title, for the Church is the official organization of baptized believers who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ. (See D&C 10:67–69; D&C 18:21–25.)
The foundation of the Church is the reality that God is our Father and that His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of the world. The witness and inspiration of the Holy Ghost confirm those realities.
The Church is the way by which the Master accomplishes His work and bestows His glory. Its ordinances and related covenants are the crowning rewards of our membership. While many organizations can offer fellowship and fine instruction, only His church can provide baptism, confirmation, ordination, the sacrament, patriarchal blessings, and the ordinances of the temple—all bestowed by authorized priesthood power. That power is destined to bless all children of our Heavenly Father, regardless of their nationality:
Admission into His church is by baptism. This sacred ordinance is reserved only for children after they reach the age of accountability and for adults who are truly converted, prepared, and worthy to pass this scriptural test:
“Ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in.” (Mosiah 18:8–9.)
Through the ordinance of baptism, we take upon ourselves the name of the Lord and covenant to be saints in these latter days. We covenant to live by the doctrines of the Church as recorded in sacred scriptures and as revealed to prophets, ancient and modern.
“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.” (A of F 1:9.)
These revelations include fundamental truths essential to our everlasting happiness and joy. They teach of priorities with eternal potential, such as love of God, family, mother, father, children, and home; self-mastery; care of the poor and needy; service; and thoughtful consideration for others.
This church, established under the direction of Almighty God, fulfills promises made in biblical times. It is part of the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:21.) It has been restored and given a name by the Lord Himself.
He issued this solemn warning: “Let all men beware how they take my name in their lips.” “Remember,” He added, “that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care.” (D&C 63:61, 64.) Therefore, just as we revere His holy name, we likewise revere the name that He decreed for His church.
As members of His church, we are privileged to participate in its divine destiny. May we so honor Him who declared, “Thus shall my church be called … The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” I pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen. (“Thus Shall My Church Be Called,” Ensign, May 1990.)
What changes have been made in the name of the Church? Its full designation does not appear in the revelations until 1838. (D&C 115:4)
, professor of religion and history, Brigham Young University:
A concise answer to this question is found by comparing the name of the Church on the title pages of the first three printings of the revelations: “The Church of Christ” (Book of Commandments, 1833), “The Church of the Latter Day Saints” (Doctrine and Covenants, 1835), and “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (Doctrine and Covenants, 1844).
The Savior told the Nephites that his church should be called in his name. (See 3 Ne. 27:8.) As a result, the restored Church’s official title from 1830 to 1834 was “The Church of Christ.” That title is found in the revelation on the organization and government of the Church (D&C 20:1) and in early minute books. During this period, however, members of the Church regularly called themselves “saints”; the word saint is used approximately three dozen times in the D&C before 1834.
On 3 May 1834, official action modified the name of the Church. In a priesthood conference presided over by Joseph Smith, a motion passed “by unanimous voice” that the Church be known as “The Church of the Latter Day Saints.” (See The Evening and the Morning Star, May 1834, 2:160.) This alteration was not seen as a de-emphasis of Christ; on the contrary, it was done in hopes that the name of the Church would more clearly reflect the fact that Christ was at its head.
In the same issue of the Kirtland newspaper in which the announcement appeared, an editorial explained that the change stemmed from a misleading nickname: the “Mormonite” church. The new name also had these advantages: (1) Since American Christians, including Congregationalists and reformers, frequently designated themselves as “The Church of Christ,” that title did not distinguish the restored gospel from a host of Protestant sects. (2) Since Paul and Peter used the Greek word saint (“a holy person”) to refer to believers in Christ, the term Latter-day Saints implied that Church members were modern followers of Christ. Thus it also asserted the claim of restoration.
Just as the term saint flourished when the official name was “The Church of Christ,” the name of Christ regularly supplemented the official name of “The Church of the Latter Day Saints.” For example, in 1835, the church was referred to as “the church of Christ” and the Twelve apostles were commissioned as “special witnesses of the name of Christ.” (D&C 107:59, 23) The Saints certainly did not feel that the Church was leaving out the name of Christ.
Sometimes during this period the first and second titles would be combined—“the church of Christ of Latter Day saints”—as they were in priesthood minutes (Messenger and Advocate, Feb. 1836, 2:266) and in the publication of the first high council minutes (see headnote, D&C 5, 1835 edition).
A vivid illustration of the way members then understood the official name of the Church is found in a letter from John Smith, the Prophet’s uncle, to his son Elias before the latter was converted. Writing 19 Oct. 1834, Uncle John answers the question of why the name could be changed:
“The Church of Christ is the Church of Saints and always was. This is the reason why the apostle directed letters sometimes to the Church of God, others to the Church, and again to the Brethren, sometimes to the Saints, always meaning the Church of Christ.” (Archives, University of Utah)
Thus, the final version of the Church’s name was no radical shift from the previous practice of using both “Christ” and “Saints” in designating the restored Church and its members. Revealed on 26 April 1838 (D&C 115:4), the full title, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” is striking by comparison to the names of the scores of churches that obscure their Christianity under the label of their founders or of some characteristic belief or aspect of church organization. It is a highly effective name, for while it is distinctive, it indicates that Jesus is at its head. It is also descriptive of divine restoration. And it is more than a name—it is a public commitment to a holy life through the Savior’s power. (“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Jan. 1979.)
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