By Richard Packham

Last revision: 5/16/15

Many non-Mormons have difficulty in reading about Mormonism because of the many unusual terms used by Mormons (e.g. "telestial"). Mormons also use familiar terms in unusual ways ("bishop," "ward"). This listing is intended to explain the Mormon meanings of these terms.

Unless indicated otherwise, the word "church" in the definitions means the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the "Mormon church", headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and claiming over fourteen million members.

Words appearing in boldface type in the definitions have their own definition in the glossary. Although "Book of Mormon," "church," "member," "Mormon," and "Joseph Smith" appear as entries, they are not boldfaced in the definitions, since they appear so often.

Aaronic priesthood
See also Priesthood. All worthy Mormon males are ordained to the Aaronic priesthood when they reach the age of twelve. The three offices of the Aaronic priesthood are, in order of ordination, deacon (age 12), teacher (age 14), and priest (age 16). The actual rights and duties are simple: deacons distribute the sacrament in meetings; teachers accompany adult home teachers, priests bless the sacrament in meetings.

Abraham, Book of
Joseph Smith's purported translation of some Egyptian papyrus rolls that came into his possession in 1835. He stated that one of the scrolls was written by the biblical Abraham "by his own hand." Smith's translation is now accepted as scripture by the LDS church, as part of its Pearl of Great Price, available online here. Modern Egyptologists have also translated the scrolls, and they agree unanimously that the scrolls, which are now in the possession of the Mormon church, are genuine, but they are common Egyptian funeral scrolls, entirely pagan in nature, having nothing to do with Abraham, and from a period 2000 years later than Abraham. (For more detailed information, click here.)

A location in Daviess County, Missouri, where according to a revelation to Joseph Smith Adam lived after being expelled from the nearby Garden of Eden. See D&C 107, 116.

Adam-God Doctrine
Brigham Young taught that God the Father was the same person as Adam. The present church officially denies that he taught it, or, if he did, that it was only his opinion, and that it is "false doctrine." (For more detailed information, click here for off-site links, and here for the actual sermons.)

A Mormon who no longer believes that Mormonism is true, especially one who expresses that conclusion. Many Mormons believe that members apostatize primarily because they are weak, they have sinned, they want to sin, or they never really had a testimony. Apostasy is an "unpardonable sin" and thus apostates are Sons of Perdition. See hell and blood atonement.

1) one of the original apostles named in the New Testament; 2) one of the twelve disciples appointed by Jesus in America when ministering there after his resurrection (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi); 3) one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, the second-highest governing body in the Mormon church. They are addressed and referred to as "Elder [last name]"

area representative
A church official in charge of a relatively large geographical area including many stakes. Since 1997 they have been members of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums of Seventy.

Articles of Faith
Thirteen brief statements of Mormon beliefs, written by Joseph Smith. They are printed in copies of the Doctrine and Covenants and on cards and pamphlets distributed by missionaries. The closest thing in Mormonism to a Creed. Available online here.

Mormons believe in Christ's atonement for sin, but with limitations. See grace and blood atonement.

See priesthood. The phrase "the authorities" means either the general authorities or all those in positions of authority over a member, as in the requirement to "obey the authorities."

Auxiliary organizations in the church are those which are for special segments of the church membership, for women (Relief Society), children (Primary Association), teenagers (Young Men's and Young Women's), and Sunday School.

baby blessing
a newborn baby is presented within a few weeks of birth at a sacrament meeting, where several Melchizedek priesthood holders form a circle holding the baby, and pronounce a blessing on it and give it the name chosen by the parents. If the father is worthy, he will participate and often pronounce the blessing. This is roughly the equivalent of the Christian "christening" ceremony.

baptize, baptism
the ritual (with confirmation) by which one becomes a member of the Mormon church and becomes cleansed from sin. It is administered to Mormon children when they turn eight years old, and to all converts. It requires the complete immersion of the body in water, and the pronouncement of a short formula. (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 11:25) Since a valid baptism can be performed only by a man holding the proper Mormon priesthood, Mormons consider baptisms performed in other churches to be invalid. Since baptism is required for salvation, Mormons provide for those who have died without the opportunity of being properly baptized by performing baptisms for the dead by proxy in Mormon temples.

bee-hive: see Deseret

Mormons believe the Bible to be "the word of God as far as it is translated correctly" (Eighth Article of Faith). They use the King James Version exclusively, supplemented by Joseph Smith's Inspired Version.

BIC: Abbreviation for "born in the covenant."

Roughly equivalent to a pastor or minister in Protestant churches, that is, the head of a congregation (a ward), except that the bishops are selected from the membership of the ward, they receive no formal training (they are lay clergy), and they receive no pay, but are expected to support themselves and their families without help from the church. They generally serve five to ten years.

The bishop is assisted by two counselors, also selected from the ward membership, and the three men comprise the bishopric.

bishop's warehouse, bishop's storehouse
The bishop is also responsible for the physical welfare of the members of his ward. He therefore maintains a storehouse from which food, clothing and other necessities can be distributed to needy ward members.

Mormons bless many things: a new baby, a sick person, the food at each meal. Any Mormon can bless the food (Mormons do not "say grace," but rather "ask the blessing"), but a Melchizedek priesthood holder is required to bless a baby or a sick person. Blessings on the sick include anointing with consecrated oil.

blood atonement
Mormons believe that there are some sins so evil that Christ's atonement does not cover them, but that the sinner must atone himself, by his own literal bloodshed (death). Murder is such a sin. In earlier days the list of such sins included also adultery and apostasy. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Book of Abraham: See Abraham, Book of

Book of Commandments: See Commandments, Book of

Book of Mormon: See Mormon, Book of

born in the covenant
Children born of parents after the parents have been sealed in celestial marriage are considered automatically sealed to those parents for eternity, since they were "born in the covenant [of eternal marriage]". If parents are sealed to each other only after they have had children, they must take the children to the temple to have a sealing ceremony performed, otherwise they will not be an eternal family. Abbreviated BIC. (For more detailed information, click here.)

A congregation of the church, usually in a mission, where the are not enough members to form a ward. It is presided over by a "branch president" rather than a bishop, who is supervised by the mission president rather than a stake president.

Plural of brother. "The Brethren" refers to the General Authorities.

Brigham Young: See Young, Brigham

Brigham Young University: See BYU.

Mormons address each other as "Brother" and "Sister", sometimes with the surname ("Brother Jones") but rarely with the given name. Mormons believe that Jesus and Lucifer are also our brothers. See Son of God.

burning in the bosom
The intense feeling that Mormons claim is the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit) confirming the truth of Mormonism. See D&C 9:7-9.

Brigham Young University, the church university, with the main campus in Provo, Utah, and other campuses in Rexburg, Idaho (formerly called Ricks College) and Hawaii, named after Brigham Young.

Cain, curse of
The black skin of the Negro race. Mormons believe that the black race is descended from Cain, surviving the Great Flood through the Ham's wife, who was black. Since 1978 Mormons rarely discuss this doctrine, since until that time the curse of Cain was the basis for the church excluding all blacks from holding the priesthood or being admitted to the temple. In 1978, however, that ban was lifted, but without any change in the underlying doctrine. (For more detailed information, click here or here .)

A church job, usually unpaid. Many members have more than one calling. Callings may be teaching, heading a quorum, doing clerical or janitorial work, coaching an athletic team, missionary work, or practically anything. One does not apply or ask for a calling, but someone higher in authority "calls" a member to do a job, after receiving appropriate inspiration. The member is "set apart" in a brief ceremony, and sustained (accepted) by the other members in a public meeting by a show of hands.

celestial kingdom, CK
Mormon heaven consists of three levels or "degrees of glory," of which the highest is the celestial kingdom, where God actually dwells. Only good Mormons can attain the CK. The CK also is divided into three levels, and only Mormons who were married in the temple (in celestial marriage) will attain the top level. They can eventually become gods themselves. (D&C 76)

celestial marriage
Marriage of a worthy Mormon man and woman performed in the temple in a ceremony which seals them together "for time and all eternity." Also called "temple marriage," "eternal marriage" and "the new and everlasting covenant [of marriage]." Until the Manifesto (1890) the term meant plural marriage (polygamy). (D&C 132)

The building where a Mormon ward holds its meetings. Also called "ward house," "meeting house" or "church."

CHI: see Church Handbook of Instructions

chiasmus, chiasm
A literary device found in the Old Testament. The fact that it is also found in the Book of Mormon is often presented by Mormon apologists as evidence of its ancient origin, even though the device also appears frequently in modern writings as well. (For more detailed information, click here.)

church, the
When used by Mormons without any qualifier, especially in heavily Mormon areas of the West, the Mormon church. In this usage it is usually capitalized.

Church Handbook of Instructions
The compilation of the rules and regulations for church operations. It is available only to church leaders. Members (or others) cannot obtain a copy. Abbreviated CHI.

Church News
A special weekly section of the church-owned Salt Lake City newspaper The Deseret News, containing news and information about the church.

CK: see celestial kingdom

The Church Office Building, a multistory building on South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, Utah, housing the headquarters of the church.

All the rules and regulations of the church. Mormons are urged to "keep the commandments," meaning to be obedient to the church's teachings and its leaders.

Commandments, Book of
The first collection of the revelations of Joseph Smith, published in Missouri in 1833. Enemies of the church destroyed the press and most copies. The revelations were revised and supplemented and later published in 1835 as the Doctrine and Covenants. Abbreviated as BoC. The complete text is online here, showing the extensive revisions made.

Community of Christ: See Reorganized Church, restoration.

confirm, confirmation
The ritual performed immediately after baptism. It is performed by the laying on of hands by several priesthood holders, and confers the "Gift of the Holy Ghost." The recipient is thereafter an official member of the church.

consecrated oil
Olive oil used for anointing the sick when blessing them. The oil is blessed by several priesthood holders as they hold the open container and pronounce a short prayer. The oil is to be used for no other purpose. Some Mormons carry a tiny vial of such oil on their keychains, for use in emergencies.

consecration, law of
A law which is presented in the temple during the endowment ritual, and which the participants must swear under oath to uphold. It requires that the member give over on demand by the church everything he may have or come to have, even his life if necessary, for the "building up of the Kingdom of God [the Mormon church]." (For more detailed information, click here.)

A process by which church authorities ensure that all printed materials, lessons and sermons are doctrinally correct.

All presiding officers in the church, from the President of the church down to the president of the local deacon's quorum of 12-year old boys, have two assistants, or vice-presidents, called counselors, ranked as "first counselor" and "second counselor."

court of love
When a member is disciplined, the charges against the member are presented before a church court, presided over by either the member's bishop or the stake president. These courts have recently been termed "courts of love," since the primary purpose is said to be to help the accused repent, rather than to punish. See high council.

Mormons are required to make numerous solemn promises to the church, as God's representative on earth. Many of these are made during the temple endowment ceremony. These are called "covenants." One of the covenants is the "New and Everlasting Covenant [of celestial marriage]" One of the questions in a worthiness interview is, "Have you kept all your covenants?" See also born in the covenant. (For more detailed information, click here.)

An abbreviation for "Choose The Right," a popular Mormon slogan. "CTR" appears on many small items of jewelry: rings, pins. Roughly equivalent to the Christian "WWJD" ("What would Jesus do?").

(ka-MORE-a) A hill near Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith's family was living in the 1820s, and where he found buried the Gold Plates, from which he translated the Book of Mormon. According to the Book of Mormon, it was also the site of the last great battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites, during which the Nephites were exterminated. It is now the site of an annual pageant presented by the church, telling the Mormon story.

curse of Cain: see Cain, curse of

D&C: see Doctrine and Covenants

(DANN-ites) A band of Mormon "enforcers" organized in the early days of the church, to whom many acts of violence, including murder, have been attributed. The existence of the gang is not denied; the extent of their endorsement by church leaders, and the extent of their depradations are vigorously debated. (For more detailed information, click here.)

The lowest office in the Aaronic priesthood. Worthy Mormon boys are ordained to this office at the age of twelve. The principle function of a deacon is to distribute the sacrament in meetings.

(dezz-a-RETT or DEZZ-a-rett) A word from the Book of Mormon which is said there to mean "honey-bee." The first Mormon immigrants to Utah (1847) called their new home "Deseret," symbolizing the industry which was needed to establish lasting settlements there. It appears as part of the name of many Utah and Mormon businesses and institutions, and the image of the bee-hive can be seen everywhere in Utah.

Deseret Alphabet
A Mormon phonetic alphabet which was invented to replace the English (Latin) alphabet in all Mormon books. Scriptural passages written in the Deseret Alphabet appeared in the Deseret News in 1859. A few books printed in Utah in 1868 and 1869 used it, but the death of Brigham Young in 1877 marked the end of efforts on its behalf. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Deseret News
One of the two daily newspapers in Salt Lake City, and the oldest. It is owned by the church. The other daily is The Salt Lake Tribune.

Deseret Industries
A chain of thrift stores owned and operated by the church. Branches are in most towns and cities in the western U.S.

A quarterly journal of scholarship, literature and art. Its complete title is Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Not connected with the church, and often critical of it. In its 35 years of publication it has often been where ground-breaking critical research on Mormonism has first appeared. Its website is at www.dialoguejournal.com.

discussions, missionary
A series of six lessons presented by missionaries to prosepective converts ("investigators") to explain Mormonism, after which the investigator is expected to be baptized as a member. They are usually presented in the investigator's home, usually a week apart. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Verb. A lesser form of church discipline than excommunication. Imposed by a church court ("court of love") for transgressions such as adultery. Usually for a short term, such as one year. Disfellowshipped members may not exercise their priesthood, enter the temple, or partake of the sacrament. If the member does not show repentance during his disfellowshipment, he may be excommunicated.

Mormons are Dispensationalists; that is, they believe that God gave ("dispensed") his true religion several times, but human beings rejected it each time, necessitating that it be restored (see restoration) in a new dispensation. Mormons name the dispensations as given to: 1) Adam; 2) Enoch; 3) Noah; 4) Abraham; 5) Moses; 6) Jesus' apostles (the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time); 7) Joseph Smith (the Dispensation of the Fulness of Time, or the Latter-day Dispensation, or the Last Dispensation, or the Dispensation of the End of Time).

Doctrine and Covenants
One of the four standard works of Mormon scripture; a collection of the revelations of the prophets of the church, all but a few from the first prophet, Joseph Smith. Divided into numbered "sections." Cited as D&C. Available online here

1) The lowest office (rank) of the Melchizedek priesthood, to which all worthy Mormon men are ordained at about age 18 or soon thereafter; 2) a male Mormon missionary; 3) a title used with the surname to address a male missionary or a general authority. See also EQ.

endowment(s), endowed
The most important of the rituals performed in the temple, only for worthy adults. It involves ritual washings, anointings, observing a lengthy dramatic summary of the Mormon view of God's plan, learning secret passwords and handgrips, all while dressed in special ritual robes (called "temple clothing" or "temple robes"). Receiving the endowment (or "taking out your endowments") is a prerequisite to temple marriage. Mormons are forbidden to reveal or discuss the endowment outside the temple. After being endowed, Mormons are encouraged to repeat the ritual as often as possible, as proxy for dead persons, who thus become eligible for the celestial kingdom. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Ensign: The principal official church magazine, published monthly.

Abbreviation for elders quorum. EQ pres is the abbreviation for elders quorum president. Every ward has an elders quorum to which all elders in the ward belong.

eternal marriage: See celestial marriage.

excommunicate, excommunication
A form of church discipline in which a Mormon is expelled from membership in the church. It is imposed by a church court ("court of love"). Until the 1985 excommunication was the only process recognized by the church for ending one's membership. Excommunication is imposed for teaching false doctrine, for serious transgressions, especially violation of temple covenants, for murder or incest, or, in the case of prominent church leaders, embarrassing the church. See also disfellowship and name removal.

The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, a group of Mormon apologists, not officially connected with the church. Their website is at www.fair-lds.org

family home evening
Abbreviated FHE. The church encourages every family to spend every Monday evening together at home, in a kind of private church service, which may include lessons, prayers, scripture readings, hymn singing, individual presentations by the children, and refreshments.

The former "Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies," the official apologetic arm of the church, housed on the campus of BYU. It publishes newsletters, magazines, and books, with the purpose of rebutting those who publish materials critical of the church. It has been renamed "The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies" and maintains a website at http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/.

fast offering
Mormons are requested to fast the first Sunday of each month by forgoing two meals (usually breakfast and lunch) and then donating the money saved to the church for the benefit of the needy.

fast and testimony meeting
On "fast Sunday" (the first Sunday of each month) there is no regular sermon in sacrament meeting; instead, the members, as they are "moved by the Spirit," may speak, usually to "bear their testimony."

FHE: See family home evening

First Presidency
The First Presidency is the top ruling body of the church, consisting of the president of the church (the "prophet, seer and revelator") and his two counselors. They also almost always hold the office of apostle, in addition to the apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve.

food storage
The church strongly recommends that every Mormon family have one years' supply of essential foods and supplies, as safeguard for emergencies or disasters. Having two years' supply, however, is considered a sign of apostasy.

free agency
Mormons emphasize that man has free agency to obey or to disobey God.

Either as noun or adjective, it refers to Mormons who believe that the present church has apostatized from the original teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, having abandoned plural marriage and other early doctrines (such as the Adam-God doctrine). Fundamentalists generally practice polygamy. They are considered apostates by the church, and are excommunicated when discovered. Many live isolated from society.

GA: Abbreviation for general authority.

The "garment of the holy priesthood" is a white undergarment which all endowed Mormons are required to wear at all times. Formerly it was a one-piece union-suit style ("longjohns"), extending to the wrists and ankles. It now extends only to below the knee, and just below the shoulder, and may be either one-piece or two-piece. It has four special markings sewn into it, at the nipples, the navel, and the right knee. It must be purchased from the church, which manufactures them, through special stores. Mormons believe that the garment protects them from physical and spiritual harm. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Because Mormons believe that it is their responsibility to perform the ordinances required for salvation for their own deceased ancestors (as well as for other dead persons), they must first identify those persons by name, so that they can act as their proxies in the temple. (For more detailed information, click here.) Thus the Mormons are among the most avid genealogists in the world. The church has one of the most valuable storehouses of genealogical data in the world, and makes it available free to everyone online here. See work for the dead. Mormons now tend to prefer the term "family history" rather than "genealogy." Many stake houses have a "Family History Center" where anyone, including non-Mormons, can do genealogical research free.

general authorities: Collective term for the top leaders of the church.

general conference
Twice a year, in early April and early October, the church holds a general conference at its Conference Center in Salt Lake City, lasting two days, and consisting mostly of addressed by the general authorities. The conferences are broadcast on radio and television, and fed by satellite to stake centers all over the world so that Mormons everywhere can hear the proceedings.

A non-Mormon. Mormons consider themselves to be the "true house of Israel," and therefore any non-Mormon is a Gentile, including any Jew.

Gold Plates, The (also the Golden Plates)
According to Joseph Smith, an ancient set of records engraved by the ancient prophet Mormon on metal plates, and buried by his son Moroni about 421 A.D. in the Hill Cumorah in New York state, where Joseph Smith dug them up in 1827 and translated them as the Book of Mormon. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Glory, Three Degrees of
Heaven, which has three levels, or degrees: the celestial (highest), the terrestrial, and the telestial (lowest). See D&C 76.

When Mormons use this term, they mean Mormonism, even in the phrase "the gospel of Jesus Christ." Mormons also use it to refer individually to the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

The Protestant doctrine of grace appears in Mormonism modified by a requirement of works: "...it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23) Mormons do not generally refer to the prayer before a meal as "saying grace," but rather "asking the blessing.

heaven: see Glory, Three Degrees of

Heavenly Father: A common Mormon term for God the Father.

The Mormon doctrine of hell is contradictory. The Book of Mormon describes hell as a place of torment and burning to which all non-Christians will be condemned. But D&C 76 provides for relatively pleasant lower degrees of heaven for them (the terrestrial kingdom), and even for wicked people (the telestial kingdom). Only the Sons of Perdition (apostates from Mormonism) will be condemned to "outer darkness" to spend eternity in torment with Satan. (D&C 76:31-38)

high council
A body of twelve high priests in each stake, which functions as an advisory body to the stake president. It also serves as a church court to try offenses by holders of the Melchizedek priesthood. See court of love. A member of the high council is called a "high councilor." High councilors also often visit ward meetings as a representative of the stake president.

high priest
The highest office in the Melchizedek priesthood to which most Mormon males can be ordained (the office of apostle is higher). Most worthy Mormon males over the age of 35 are high priests.

home teachers
Pairs of priesthood holders assigned by the bishop to visit all families in the ward each month. Each family is assigned a pair of home teachers, who call on their assigned families once a month to present a short lesson, to inquire about the family's welfare, and to report any problems to the bishop.

Inspired Revision, Inspired Version
A revision of the King James Bible made by Joseph Smith, to correct the mistranslations (see Bible). The RLDS have always used this version as their Bible. Also called the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). (For more detailed information, click here.)

An Institute of Religion is a Mormon school located near to a college or university campus, mostly in the western U.S., staffed by teachers employed by the church, and offering courses in religion and Mormonism for students attending that college.

1) In Mormonism, the basic material of the universe, which has existed eternally and from which all gods and spirits are produced; the first stage in the development of a human being or god: intelligence > spirit > human being with a body > existence after death as spirit > resurrected body > god. 2) An oft-cited Mormon scripture says: "The Glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth." (D&C 93:36)

interpreters: See Urim and Thummim.

investigator: See discussions, missionary

iron rod
Lehi, in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 8, 11:25), had a vision in which he was guided through danger toward the Tree of Life by holding to a kind of handrail, an iron rod, which was interpreted as being "the Word of God." A common Mormon saying is therefore "hold to the rod!", meaning "keep the faith!" Mormons who are strict adherents to all the commandments are sometimes called "iron-rodders."

A Mormon who is not active, who does not keep the commandments; a Mormon who is Mormon in name only.

(JERR-a-dite) Noun or adjective. The Jaredites are a people in the Book of Mormon (Ether) who were led by God to America from the Tower of Babel, and who exterminated themselves by mass warfare about the time that the people of Lehi arrived. The name comes from one of the two brothers ("Jared") who were the leaders of the immigrants.

Joseph Smith, Jr.: See Smith, Joseph, Jr.

Journal of Discourses
A printed collection in 26 volumes of the sermons of early church leaders, principally from the days of Brigham Young. Online here.

A town near Cleveland, Ohio, which was the headquarters of the church in the 1830s. The first Mormon temple was built there, and is still in use, owned by the Reorganized Church.

(KOH-lobb) A distant star (not otherwise identified) near which, according to the Book of Abraham, chapter 3:2-9, is the planet on which God dwells and from which he governs the universe.

An abbreviation for Latter-day Saint (Mormon), from the official name of the church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; used as an adjective or a noun

(LAY-mu-nite) Noun or adjective. Originally referring to the descendants and followers of Laman, a brother of Nephi (in the Book of Mormon), who generally were unrighteous and warred against the more righteous Nephites, eventually completely exterminating them. Mormon doctrine asserts that the Lamanites are the ancestors of the native American (Indian) tribes. Thus, Mormons frequently use the term to refer to the present-day native Americans. (For more detailed information, click here.)

(lee-a-HOH-nah) A magical compass-like device given by God to Lehi (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 16) to guide him and his family in their travels. Also the name of a magazine published by the church. (For more detailed information, click here.)

One of the Sons of God, a brother of Jesus. In the pre-existence, when Lucifer's proposed plan for man's salvation was rejected by the Council in Heaven, he rebelled and one-third of the spirits followed him. He is the devil, Satan. Lucifer plays an important role in the endowment ceremony. (For more detailed information, click here for his role in the endowment, and here for problems with this name.)

The 1890 decree from the church president Wilford Woodruff announcing that the church would no longer perform polygamous marriages, thus officially ending almost forty years of Mormon polygamy. Many Mormons opposed the ban. (See fundamentalist and celestial marriage.) It is published in the Doctrine and Covenants as "Official Declaration - 1".

Mormons have many meetings, and Mormons are asked in every worthiness interview "Do you attend your meetings?" In addition to the meetings on Sunday during the Sunday block, there may be other auxiliary or quorum meetings, as well as committee meetings. If a member has many callings (most of which include attending committee meetings), there may not be much free time in the week for family or leisure.

Melchizedek priesthood
The higher of the two Mormon priesthoods (the other is the Aaronic priesthood). The ranks (offices) are: apostle (highest), high priest, elder. Until recently there was also the office of seventy between high priest and elder, but that office is no longer granted. All worthy adult Mormon males are ordained to some office in the Melchizedek priesthood.

Used without any qualifier, a member of the church. Especially in heavily Mormon areas in the West, or with other Mormons. Strangers in Utah might be asked, "Are you a member?"

MIA: See Young Men's.

mission, missionaries
The Mormons are avid missionaries. Most young Mormons (especially males) are called when about 19 years old to serve a two-year full-time mission. Missionaries pay their own expenses. Their only training is several weeks at a Missionary Training Center (MTC), which may also include some foreign language training. Missionaries are assigned to an area (also called a "mission") presided over by a mission president, with headquarters at a "mission home." At present (2012) there are about 50,000 full-time missionaries serving in about 330 missions all over the world. Unlike missionaries of some other denominations, who are medical or teaching personnel and whose primary purpose is to ease human suffering in under-developed areas, Mormon missionaries (at least until relatively recently) were sent mostly to the industrialized, Christian nations, with the sole purpose of proselytizing. In addition to the full-time missionaries, many Mormons are called to serve part-time missions in their own communities ("ward missionaries", formerly called "stake missionaries"). See also discussions, missionary.

missionary companion
Mormon missionaries always work in pairs. Thus, every missionary has a companion of the same sex. No missionary is supposed to be away from the presence of the companion at any time.

morally clean
Equivalent of sexually pure. Any kind of pre-marital or extra-marital sexual activity is severely condemned, including masturbation, "French" kissing, petting, watching R-rated movies, looking at pornography (Rodin's statue "The Kiss" was banned from an art display at BYU).

(MORE-mun) As noun: 1) the name of the ancient Nephite who supposedly compiled and edited the Book of Mormon and inscribed it on the gold plates; 2) a member of the Mormon church. As adjective: 1) referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or its members; 2) referring to anything derived from the Book of Mormon or the teachings of Joseph Smith. Officially the church dislikes the use of the term. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Mormon, Book of
Published in 1830 in Palmyra, New York, by Joseph Smith, it purports to be a translation of the Gold Plates delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni in 1827. It claims to be a record of the ancient inhabitants of America, from about 2200 BC to 421 AD. Originally written in Reformed Egyptian, the present English edition is 521 pages long. After the Bible, it is the second of the four standard works of scripture for Mormons. A free copy of the Book of Mormon can be obtained from any Mormon bishop or missionary, or almost any thrift store. (For more detailed information, click here.) The text of the Book of Mormon is online here. The original 1830 version, with the thousands of changes made in subsequent versions, is online here.

Mormon Corridor, Morridor
That area of the western United States where a large part of the population is Mormon: primarily Utah and the adjacent areas of neighboring states Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona.

(mu-ROH-nigh) In the Book of Mormon, the son of Mormon, and the last surviving Nephite, who buried the sacred records of his people, written on the gold plates, in the Hill Cumorah, and, as an angel, guarded them until 1827, when he loaned them to Joseph Smith for translation. Moroni is believed to be the angel referred to in Revelation 14:6-7 (D&C 133:36). His statue, depicting him blowing a trumpet, tops the steeple of most Mormon temples.

Mountain Meadows Massacre
The slaughter of about 150 non-Mormon immigrants near St. George, Utah, in 1857, perpetrated by local Mormons. The church long denied any involvement by Mormon leaders, and historians are still debating the extent of the involvement of the top church leaders in the massacre and its subsequent cover-up. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Missionary Training Center. The principal center is in Provo, Utah. Others are located in South America and England. After being called to a mission, the new missionaries spend several weeks at the MTC for training, somewhat longer for language training if their mission will be in a country where a different language is spoken.

name removal
A process for voluntarily leaving the church, as compared to excommunication. (For more detailed information, click here.)

A town in Illinois on the Mississippi river, founded by the Mormons after fleeing Missouri in 1839. It quickly grew, as headquarters of the church, to be the largest town in Illinois at the time. It was abandoned by the Mormons in 1846 after the death of Joseph Smith.

Nephi: (NEE-figh) An important Book of Mormon prophet. See Nephite.

(NEE-fight) Noun and adjective. In the Book of Mormon, a descendant or follower of Nephi, one of the sons of Lehi, who (according to the Book of Mormon) brought his family from Jerusalem to America about 590 BC. The Nephites were generally more righteous than their cousins the Lamanites, but were completely exterminated by them at the Hill Cumorah about 421 A.D.

obedience, law of
The law which requires Mormons to obey all commandments of God as given through the leaders of the Mormon church and the Mormon scriptures. As part of the endowment, temple Mormons take an oath to obey this law. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Any ritual in Mormonism, including baptism, confirmation, endowment (which consists of numerous ordinances, such as washing and anointing), temple marriage. Often used in the phrase "laws and ordinances of the Gospel."

outer darkness: See hell.

Not the same as heaven, but rather more like the Catholic limbo or Purgatory: a place where the dead wait for judgment and resurrection. Also called "spirit prison".

1) One of the ancestors of the House of Israel, as portrayed especially in Genesis; 2) an office of the Melchizedek priesthood, the primary function of which is to give patriarchal blessings to members. Usually each stake has a patriarch, most often an older man.

patriarchal blessing
A blessing pronounced upon a Mormon by a patriarch, usually only once in a lifetime, and usually when the member is a teenager or young adult. The purpose is to outline for the member what blessings and dangers can be expected in life. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the patriarch also identifies the tribe of Israel to which the member belongs (usually Ephraim or Manasseh). The blessing is transcribed into writing, and one copy is given to the member and another retained in church records.

Pearl of Great Price
The fourth of the Mormon scriptures, the standard works. It contains the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and some writings of Joseph Smith. It is available on-line here.

Perdition, Sons of: See hell.

The early Mormon settlers of Utah, also called the Mormon Pioneers. "Pioneer Day" commemorates the entrance into the Salt Lake Valley of the first wagon train of Mormons on July 24, 1847, and is celebrated as an official state holiday in Utah, with parades and pageants.

plural marriage
The more common Mormon term for polygamy, the practice of one husband having more than one wife at the same time. It was practiced secretly by Joseph Smith beginning in the 1830s. He introduced the practice secretly to his closest confederates in the 1840s, and produced a revelation in 1843 in which God commanded its practice as the "new and everlasting covenant of marriage" (D&C 132). The doctrine was kept secret from the general membership of the church until 1852, after which all faithful Mormons were urged to practice it (during that period, Mormons referred to it as "the Principle"). The practice outraged the American public, with the U.S. government passing ever more stringent laws to try to stop its practice. Finally the church reluctantly abandoned the practice in 1890 (see Manifesto), although the doctrine itself has not been repudiated by the church. Plural marriage is still practiced by many fundamentalists. See also celestial marriage. (For more detailed information, click here for general information, and click here for the Mormon cover-up of its polygamous side.)

polygamy: See plural marriage.

Also called "pre-mortal existence." Mormons believe that humans existed individually before birth into this life, first as "intelligences", and then as "spirit children" of God and one of his wives. Our status in this life - whether born into miserable poverty in a backward country in primitive times, or born to good and prosperous Mormon parents in modern times - depends on how righteous we were during the pre-existence. See also Cain, curse of, and Lucifer.

President of the church
The top position in church leadership. The president and his two counselors make up the First Presidency. The president is considered to be a "prophet, seer and revelator." He holds office for life. In modern times, upon the death of the president, the First Presidency is dissolved and the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve succeeds to the office and selects his two counselors.

The highest of the offices of the Aaronic (lower) priesthood, usually conferred upon young men when they reach the age of 16. A priest has authority to baptize and to bless the sacrament.

The authority to act in God's name in performing the rituals (ordinances) and other religious offices. It can only be obtained by ordination by laying on of hands by one already holding the priesthood being conferred or higher. Mormons believe that only Mormons hold the authentic priesthood. All worthy Mormon males over the age of 12 are ordained to some office (rank) in the priesthood. The first (lower) is the Aaronic priesthood, the higher is the Melchizedek priesthood. Each office includes all the authority of the lower offices. Women are not allowed to hold the priesthood. Negroes, whether male or female, were barred from the priesthood until 1978. See Cain, curse of.

Primary is a church auxiliary organization for children from pre-school to age twelve. The Primary meets every Sunday during the Sunday block.

A person through whom God supposedly speaks to the world. Mormons believe that God has inspired prophets with his messages at all times, in all dispensations. Mormons believe that the founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, Jr., was a prophet on an equal footing with the Biblical prophets, and that each of his successors as president of the Mormon church was likewise a prophet, as is the present president, who is referred to as "the living prophet." Although the Biblical prophets and Joseph Smith made many prophecies (predictions of future events), few Mormon prophets in the last hundred years have done so. Rather they restrict themselves to giving advice and speaking on doctrinal matters. The modern apostles are also considered to be prophets. Until the 1960s, when Mormons used the term "the Prophet" they were generally referring to Joseph Smith. Nowadays the term is used to mean also "the living prophet," i.e., the present president of the church. Primary children are taught a song "Follow the Prophet - he knows the Way!", meaning do what the president of the church tells you to do.

Short for "quadruple combination," a single volume, usually bound in leather, often with a zipper closure and sometimes a carrying handle, containing all four standard works. See also triple combination.

All priesthood holders are organized into small local groups called quorums. Each quorum has a president and two counselors at the head. Also the general authorities are organized into quorums, such as the Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles], the First Quorum of Seventy, etc. See also EQ.

Quorum of the Twelve
The second-highest governing body in the church after the First Presidency. Also called the Council of the Twelve. It consists of twelve apostles, who serve for life. The senior member is the president of the Twelve, and is next in line to succeed the president of the church.

recommend: See temple recommend

Verb. A member who has a calling must remain in that calling until officially released by the presiding authority. See set apart.

Relief Society: The women's auxiliary organization of the church.

Reorganized Church, Reorganites
Formerly named the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), headquartered in Independence, Missouri, now officially renamed Community of Christ. The second-largest branch of Mormonism, which arose when many early Mormons refused to follow Brigham Young to Utah after Joseph Smith was killed in 1844 in Illinois. Some of these Mormons "reorganized" the church in the 1860s, and most of Joseph Smith's immediate family, including his widow and her children, became members. Smith's oldest son, Joseph Smith III, became its first president, and for many years the RLDS presidency was held by a direct descendant of Joseph Smith the Prophet. The RLDS differ quite radically in doctrine from the larger Utah Mormon church. Their website is at http://www.cofchrist.org/. Sometimes called "Josephites," in contrast to the "Brighamites." See also restoration.

Mormons believe that the church established by Christ and his apostles soon fell into apostasy, and that it was then necessary for God to restore it. The church founded by Joseph Smith is that restoration, often referred to as the "restoration of the gospel in these latter days." See dispensation. The term "Restoration churches" refers to all the sects of Mormonism (of which there are more than 200) which arose from Joseph Smith's teachings and the Book of Mormon. The Reorganized Church is the largest, after the church headquartered in Salt Lake City.

Mormons believe in "continuing revelation," i.e., that God is continually revealing important truths to the living prophet, in contrast to most Christians, who contend that God's revelations were complete when the Bible canon was closed.

Ricks College, in Rexburg, Idaho, a church-owned school, recently renamed Brigham Young University - Idaho. See BYU.

RLDS: See Reorganized Church.

Abbreviation for "returned missionary," i.e. a person who has successfully served a full-time mission for the church.

sacrament, sacrament service
The Mormon name for the "Lord's Supper," "communion" or "eucharist," the ritual part of the weekly sacrament meeting, consisting of a ceremonial eating of a small piece of bread and drinking a small cup of water, each having been consecrated by a priest with a set prayer (Book of Mormon, Moroni 4:3 and 5:2) and distributed to the congregation in the pews by the deacons. Only members in good standing are to "take the sacrament."

sacrament meeting
The principle weekly Mormon worship service in each ward, part of the Sunday block, usually presided over by the bishop. It is opened and closed with a prayer offered by a priesthood holder, it includes the singing of hymns, the sacrament service, one or two sermons by members called by the bishop for that Sunday, and possibly other music, perhaps by the ward choir. The most important meeting all Mormons are required to attend.

seal, sealing
Mormons believe that families who are ceremonially joined to each other ("sealed" - husband to wife, parents to children) will enjoy that same relationship in the next life. This belief is the basis for the Mormon slogan "Families Are Forever!" See also celestial marriage, born in the covenant. (For more detailed information, click here.)

One who has been given by God the ability to know hidden truths, especially one who is authorized to receive knowledge through the use of the Urim and Thummim or a seer stone. It is a higher calling than prophet. (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 8:15-18) The President of the church, as well as being a prophet, is also a seer. (D&C 107:92, 124:94).

seer stone: See Urim and Thummim, and seer.

Similar to an Institute of Religion, but associated with a high school rather than a college. Students often attend a hour-long religion class in early morning, before the start of the classes at the high school, or, in some areas where the laws allow it, they attend during "release time." The teachers may be full-time religion teachers employed by the church, or they may be local Mormons who teach as an unpaid calling.

set apart
Verb. When any Mormon receives a new calling, the bishop or other authority and several other priesthood holders place their hands on the member's head, and pronounce a short prayer and blessing, including words to the effect that the member is "called" to this task or position, and is "set apart" to do it. See also release and sustain.

Formerly an office in the Melchizedek priesthood, above elder and below high priest. Now no longer used, except as a designation for the general authorities of the third tier, the First Quorum of Seventy, etc., including area representatives, who are organized into quorums of seventy. Based on the seventy men sent out by Jesus (Luke 10:1).

See brother. Female missionaries are addressed as "Sister" with the surname, equivalent to "Elder" for the male missionaries.

Smith, Joseph, Jr.
(1805-1844) The founder of Mormonism, translator of the Book of Mormon, revered by Mormons as a prophet. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Son of God
Mormons believe that Jesus is literally the son of God the Father, both spiritually and physically, his spirit first having been sired by God in the pre-existence, and his body of flesh later also sired by God the Father, through normal sexual relations with Mary. All humans also have spirits created the same way as Jesus', thus we are all "[spiritual] children of God," and Jesus is our spiritual brother.

Sons of Perdition: See hell.

Spalding theory
Also spelled Spaulding. A theory that one of the primary sources for the material in the Book of Mormon was the unpublished manuscript of a novel written by Solomon Spalding. (For more detailed information, click here.)

spirit prison: See paradise.

A stake consists of several neighboring wards, usually five to ten. Roughly equivalent to a Catholic diocese.

stake presidency: See stake president.

stake president
Each stake is presided over by a stake president, assisted by two counselors. These three men are the stake presidency.

stake house, stake center
The building which serves as headquarters and meeting place for a stake. It often also serves as the meeting place for several wards.

standard works
The Mormon scriptures, consisting of the four books (or collections of books): the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl Of Great Price. They are sometimes bound together in a single volume, a quad or triple combination. Available online here.

Sunday block
Because Mormons have so many organizations and meetings, the most important meetings are bunched together on Sunday so that families do not have to travel so much. This three-hour series of meetings usually includes priesthood meeting, sacrament meeting, Relief Society meeting, Sunday School, and other meetings such as committee and quorum meetings.

A quarterly journal of articles on Mormonism. Generally sympathetic to the church, but sometimes critical. It has no official connection to the church. The Sunstone Foundation also sponsors symposiums where the presentations are sometimes critical or questioning. Liberal Mormons who subscribe to Sunstone or attend its symposiums are sometimes nicknamed "Sunstoners." The name comes from one of the architectural features of the Nauvoo temple, large stones showing a face, representing the sun.

All members who are called or ordained to any office or calling must be approved by the membership of the ward (or stake or entire church, as appropriate). This is done by announcing to the membership in a sacrament meeting (or conference) that the member is to be called or ordained to that position, and asking for a show of hands of all who approve. Persons in long-term positions such as bishop or general authority are presented annually to the membership for a sustaining vote. Mormons are asked in every worthiness interview whether they sustain the leaders in authority over them. (An affirmative answer is expected.)

1) The Tabernacle at Temple Square, one of the landmarks of Salt Lake City, a large meeting hall famous for its unusual architecture, its acoustics, its organ, and its choir. Until recently it was the site of every general conference. 2) Formerly a stake house was called a "stake tabernacle." The term derives from the Tabernacle made by Moses during the Exodus.

An office in the Aaronic priesthood, given to worthy Mormon boys when they turn fourteen. See also home teacher and visiting teacher.

telestial kingdom
The lowest of the Three Degrees of Glory (heaven), described at D&C 76:81-90, also called hell (v. 84).

The most sacred Mormon buildings are temples. Only special ordinances are performed there, including endowments, sealings (including temple marriages) and baptisms for the dead. Only worthy Mormons are admitted, by presenting a temple recommend. There are now over a hundred Mormons temples, in most major cities of the world and in many smaller cities in the United States. The only thing that Mormon temples have in common with the temples described in the Bible is the name. (For more detailed information, click here.)

temple marriage: See celestial marriage.

temple recommend
A written pass which must be presented by a Mormon before being admitted to the temple. It is obtained from the bishop, who conducts a private interview of the applicant to determine the applicant's worthiness, since only worthy Mormons are allowed to participate in the temple ordinances. The interview questions inquire about the member's testimony, faithfulness to covenants, obedience to the commandments, especially keeping the Word of Wisdom, whether the member is morally clean, whether the member has paid a full tithing, whether the member attends meetings regularly, and whether the member sustains the church leaders. A recommend is valid for two years. It must be surrendered if the member is disfellowshipped. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Temple Square
A city block in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, owned by the church. Located there are the Salt Lake Temple (completed in 1893 after forty years' construction time), the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall (a smaller meeting hall), two visitors' centers, and other smaller buildings and monuments. The principal tourist attraction in the city. Many other buildings housing church offices are within walking distance.

terrestrial kingdom
The second of the Three Degrees of Glory in Mormon heaven, above the telestial kingdom and below the celestial kingdom. See D&C 76:71-80.

Every Mormon is expected to have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, that is, to "know" that Mormonism is true. This knowledge is usually obtained through prayer (see the Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4), fasting, study, reading the standard works, or through personal revelation. It is the equivalent of what Christians call "faith." Mormons are expected to be always ready to "bear" their testimony, especially in fast and testimony meeting. It is often formulaic: "I know with every fiber of my being that the Gospel is true; I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and I know that the present President of the church is a living prophet. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and I have received a firm witness thereto from the Holy Ghost. I bear this testimony to you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen." Bearing testimony is the Mormon equivalent of the Christian's "witnessing." To have a "weak" testimony is to have doubts about Mormonism, and to "lose" one's testimony is to become an apostate.

Thummim: See Urim and Thummim

tithing, tithe
One tenth of one's income is paid to the bishop by a good Mormon as tithing. It is a major source of income for the church, estimated at five billion dollars per year. The payment of a full tithe is a requirement for a temple recommend and for advancement in the priesthood.

tithing settlement
At the end of each calendar year, Mormons are expected to have a private interview with the bishop to confirm that they have paid a full tithe, and to make up any tithing which remains unpaid.

triple combination
A one-volume book containing the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Similar to a quad, but without the Bible.

Twelve, Quorum or Council of the: See Quorum of the Twelve.

underwear, Mormon: see garments

United Order
Also called the Order of Enoch. Several attempts in the early church to require all members to transfer all private property to the church, which would then distribute it to all more equally, as needed. It is the logical conclusion of the Law of Consecration. See D&C 42:32, 51:3, 82:17.

Urim and Thummim
Also called "interpreters" in the Book of Mormon, and sometimes used to refer to a seer stone, especially the stone owned by Joseph Smith. In Mormon lore, they are described as two transparent stones set in a bowed frame attached to a breast plate, which, when worn by the seer, allows him to see through the stones and interpret writings in foreign languages. Joseph Smith claimed that he obtained the ancient interpreters when he was given the gold plates by Moroni, who also later retrieved them. Although the official Mormon history says that Smith used the Urim and Thummim on the breastplate to translate the Book of Mormon, most contemporary witnesses said that he used the same seer stone which he had used as a young man in seeking buried treasure. Smith's seer stone is still in the possession of the church.

visiting teachers
Similar to home teachers, but visiting teachers are members of the Relief Society who visit female church members in their homes once a month, to present a brief lesson and to inquire about any problems.

visitors' center
Almost all Mormon historical sites and temples have a visitors' center, where guides (who are often missionaries) explain the significance of the place and at the same time tell the visitors about Mormonism. These centers are sometimes very elaborate, with museum-like displays, motion picture theaters, dioramas, etc.

A Mormon congregation, equivalent to a Catholic parish, usually with 300-500 members, presided over by a lay bishop. Every ward covers an exclusive geographical area, and Mormons are required to be members of the ward in which their home is located.

ward house: See chapel.

welfare system
Also called the Welfare Plan. An extensive network of warehouses, canneries, farms and factories, owned and operated by the church, to provide the necessities of life to members in need.

Witnesses, Book of Mormon
Eleven early associates of Joseph Smith stated that they actually saw the gold plates, and they signed written statements to that effect, printed in the front of every copy of the Book of Mormon. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Word of Wisdom
Section 89 of the D&C. It advises Mormons to avoid strong drink, hot beverages, tobacco, meat except in winter. It has been interpreted to forbid all use of alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. The iron rodders interpet it to forbid all caffeine, as well as decaffeinated drinks, either hot or cold. Although it was worded as merely advisory, it is now strictly enforced, and to "keep" the Word of Wisdom is a primary requirement for obtaining a temple recommend or for completing a satisfactory worthiness interview.

work for the dead
(Noun) The genealogy research and the performance of proxy rituals in the temple on behalf of non-Mormon dead persons. These are considered an important duty of every good Mormon. Probably ninety-five percent of all the rituals performed in Mormon temples are performed by Mormons acting as proxies for dead persons.

worthy, worthiness
Only those who are considered worthy will advance in the church, receive higher callings, or receive a temple recommend. At each such step, the member is interviewed by the bishop, who asks the probing questions (see temple recommend). The first such interview occurs when a Mormon child is eight years old and is to be baptized.

Young, Brigham
(1801-1877) The successor to Joseph Smith as president of the church. Upon Smith's death in 1844, Young led the majority of the church members to Utah. See also Reorganized Church, Brigham Young University. (For more detailed information, click here.)

Young Men's, Young Women's
The auxiliary organizations for teen-age Mormons. Previously called the Mutual Improvement Association(s) (or MIA). The Young Men's is essentially the Boy Scout program.

In addition to the Biblical meaning of the name, Zion (or City of Zion, or New Zion) is used in various meanings in Mormonism: 1) Jackson County, Missouri (D&C 57:1-3, 84:2-3, 101:17-20); 2) Utah; 3) wherever Mormons are located; 4) North and South America; 5) the church (D&C 97:21); one of two future capitals (with Jerusalem) of the coming Kingdom of God (Isaiah 2:3). The name appears frequently in the names of Utah businesses: Zion's Bank, Z.C.M.I. (Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, Utah's oldest department store).

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