In my first attempt at answering the question, ‘What do Latter-day Saints believe?’, I posited that it would be better to ask what Latter-day Saints must believe. I did not explain my reasoning and will do so here. The tolerant attitude of the Church towards the private conscience of her members, the lack of a clearly systematic theology, the dogmatic trust in senior Church leaders, and the nature of the Latter-day Saint open canon have all contributed to a diversity of approach to Latter-day Saint beliefs and it would be quite challenge to detail a complete survey of, what might be kindly called, the folk religion of the Latter-day Saint people. Furthermore, the Church has been very inclusive in determining the boundaries of acceptable belief—instead focussing on policing orthopraxy. At some point, it may become necessary to change focus and set more strict and clear boundaries of orthodoxy and orthopisty. That decision must be left to those to whom that right belongs. My response to the question, ‘What must a Latter-day Saint believe?’ sets out a baseline of key doctrines necessary for the Latter-day Saint to believe.
Previously, I used the Baptismal Interview Questions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they are set up in a way which requires the catechumen to declare his belief in God and the Apostolic Succession and commits him to strive after a life of Christian discipleship. I shall now turn to the Articles of Faith for a more complete articulation of requisite Latter-day Saint beliefs.
The very title ‘The Articles of Faith’ show the influence of Anglosphere Protestant culture on the intellectual formation of Joseph Smith and the early Latter-day Saints. This does not undermine the inspired ministry or prophetic authority of Joseph Smith. The language does, however, reveal Joseph as a man of his time and culture; influenced by its language and patterns. Joseph Smith History, the canonical autobiographical account of Joseph Smith’s vocation to the office of Prophet, is clear that his early interest in religion was owed to the agitations of the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians during the religious phenomenon historians would later call the Second Great Awakening. Joseph was drawn, he wrote, to the Methodists. During the time Joseph was most influenced by Protestantism (1817-1820), the American Methodists had only recently split from the Church of England. Their liturgy was still drawn, via The Sunday Services of the Methodists; with other occasional services (1784), from the patterns established in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Wesley’s The Sunday Services of the Methodists included an abridged version of the 39 Articles (an official doctrinal statement in the Anglican Communion), which he called the Articles of Religion. The Articles of Religion consist of twenty-five articles which are an expression of the Methodist theological position. Like the Articles of Faith, they address things like belief in God, express faith in the sacraments, recognise free will, outline an ecclesiology, and accept the legitimate government as the secular authority. By naming the official document which sets out Latter-day Saint belief The Articles of Faith, Joseph channelled that legacy and articulated the Latter-day Saint theological position against the rational and methodological Protestantism of his intellectual youth.
Furthermore, The Articles of Faith are of interest not only as the official statement of the Latter-day Saint theological position but also for their framing against the claims of nineteenth-century ultra-Protestant non-conformity and for what they do not state. The rest of this submission will look at what The Articles explicitly affirm as necessary Latter-day Saint beliefs.
- ‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.’
It is worth noting that first of the Articles of Faith begins the document in a similar fashion to the Articles of Religion and the 39 Articles, by beginning with an expression of faith in God. This language also mirrors that of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord…’, as found in The Book of Common Prayer. Article 1 affirms Latter-day Saint belief in the Trinity, or Godhead. This statement makes no Christological statements nor does it attempt to explain the oneness of God; but it also does not claim the “separateness” of Gods. The formulation of Article 1 is classically Christian and Trinitarian—note the archaic formulary, “comma and appositive comma and”, which is grammatically consistent with classical Christian understandings of God. This is not the space to embark on a debate over Christological definitions of the nature and attributes of God—it is enough to say that the Latter-day Saint must believe in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- ‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.’
Many people, Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint alike, take this statement as a sort of Pelagian denial of Original Sin and a rejection of Augustinian theology. Some even go so far as to that Latter-day Saints believe that God was the architect of the Fall. While Joseph’s use of the term ‘Adam’s transgression’ can be read in this way, to do so would go against the doctrines found in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. Latter-day Saint scripture clearly teaches the doctrine of the Fall, or Original Sin, so what did Joseph Smith mean by this second article? The key to this statement is the opening position that ‘men will be punished for their own sins’—asserting the necessity of personal righteousness, When read in the context of Article 3, it is clear that the Atonement of Christ has redeemed man from the judgment of Original Sin and that mankind will be judged based on their response to the invitation to live a Christian life in a fallen world. The next two articles express the Latter-day Saint understanding of how a Christian life is to be led.
- ‘We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’
Again, the language used is representative of the intellectual milieu Joseph inhabited and not indicative of some sort of Calvinist-Presbyterian or ultra-Protestant rejection of sacramental grace. Not only would such a statement go against Latter-day Saint scripture and Church teaching, I would contradict the following article. In the context of Article 2, Article 3, then, must be understood as a rejection of rational methodological Pelagianism. In Article 3, Joseph set forth the Latter-day Saint hope that all mankind would be saved through participation in the saving sacraments of the Church and be made able to live obediently to the Gospel law, through the Atonement of Christ.
- ‘We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.’
Article 4 is significant because it encapsulates what later Latter-day Saint theologians would call the Gospel of Christ—that through faith in Christ, unto repentance, man could receive salvation in baptism and be strengthened in their Christian discipleship through confirmation; empowering them to endure to the end. When read in the context of Articles 2 and 3, Article 4 details how salvation is accomplished, stresses the importance of faith and sacramental grace, and articulates how the Atonement of Christ, through the sacraments of initiation, overcome the Fall and effect personal regeneration. These first four articles lay out the starting point for the Latter-day Saint position on Theology proper, Christology, Pneumology, theological anthropology, and hamartiology. The next three articles outline Latter-day Saint ecclesiology.
- ‘We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances thereof.’
Article 5 sets out the Latter-day Saint position on the necessity of the Apostolic Succession, the ordained ministry, and priesthood. It clearly states that vocation and ordination are necessary elements of ministry and links the rights and responsibilities to preach and administer sacraments to the authorised and ordained priests of the Church.
- ‘We believe in the same organisation which existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.’
Article 6 begins by reinforcing the credibility and priesthood hierarchy of the Early Christian Church. Significantly, The Articles never state when or if the Early Church deviated from orthodoxy, orthopisty, or orthopraxy. When read in the context of ultra-Protestant rejection of Church hierarchy or the significance of the ordained ministry, Articles 5 and 6 clearly stand in favour of episcopal organisation, priesthood offices, and stress the necessity of continuity with Primitive Christian practice in this regard.
- ‘We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.’
Article 7 pits the Latter-day Saint doctrine against any sort of Enlightenment-influenced rational or Liberal Christianity by maintaining that the Church is led by Divine direction, that God is still active in the world, and that the Age of Miracles did not cease. It is an affirmation in the mystical and supernatural power of God which continues to be manifest on Earth.
The next two articles describe the uniquely Latter-day Saint understanding of the open canon of revelation and scripture—the logical conclusion of Articles 5 through 7.
- ‘We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.’
Article 8 has been used by some inside and outside of the Latter-day Saint tradition to undermine Latter-day Saint belief in the Bible as the word of God and its authoritative role. This likely stems from Joseph Smith’s use of the word “translated”. Joseph’s history of translation, as recorded in Church History, the Joseph Smith Papers, and elsewhere, clearly demonstrate that Joseph had a unique understanding or conception of scriptural interpretation which he called “translation”. Joseph used the word translate, not in any sort of linguistic or academic sense but to describe Divinely-inspired interpretation of the word of God. Thus, Joseph Smith did not argue that the Bible was lacking in authority or suffered from purposeful or accidental linguistic mistranslation. Instead, Joseph’s experience with sola scriptura Protestantism revealed the inadequacy of the project. The Bible requires, as does all scripture, Divinely-inspired interpretation through Holy Ghost-directed priesthood. This is emphasised in Article 9.
- ‘We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.’
Article 9 affirms the Latter-day Saint belief in ancient scripture and legitimate sacred tradition. However, because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains the Apostolic Succession bestows continued outpourings of Divine gifts—like personal and institutional revelation—ancient scripture and sacred tradition are not closed. Instead, the Latter-day Saint embraces and ongoing and living Christian project in which an active and participatory God is at the helm. This implies that the Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a living and breathing mouthpiece for a living God. This is also a caution for the Latter-day Saint not to become complaisant—the ongoing restoration of the Church of Christ will not be completed until the entirety of fragmented Christianity, from the Roman Pontiff to the Eastern Patriarchs, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the other national churches, to their offshoots, the non-conformist Protestant sects, are brought into full communion with the Prophet in Salt Lake. Many revelations and changes must and will occur before this is brought to pass but it is towards this end that the Latter-day Saint project must look. Only then will the restoration be complete and a re-united and re-invigorated Christendom can set about the recovery of the children of men.
- ‘We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will receive its paradisiacal glory.’
Article 10 is the most radical of The Articles of Faith. It is explicitly millenarian, missionary-focussed, and makes bold eschatological claims. This is not the place to discuss those claims in depth, merely the place to understand them in the context of The Articles of Faith. The first assertion, concerning the gathering of Israel, has two meanings—the obvious Latter-day Saint belief that the biblical prophecies concerning the descendants of Abraham will be fulfilled and the belief that the Church, as Israel, must spread and preach the Gospel to all the world. The second assertion, concerning the establishment of Zion on the American continent, is the logical extension that the Church, with its geographical headquarters on the American continent will be established and that the Church of Christ will be spread to every continent. The third and fourth assertions are purely eschatological and look forward to Christ’s return as the King of Kings and towards the biblical prophecy of the Earth’s regeneration.
- ‘We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.’
Article 11 begins with the assertion of the spiritual authority of the Church. It also affirms Latter-day Saint belief in the right of individual agency, conscience, and religious liberty—necessary pre-conditions of a conscience faith in Christ. Article 11 must also be understood in the contexts of Article 10 and the severe persecution against the Latter-day Saints in the mid-nineteenth century. Article 10’s eschatological claims might lead some to see the Church as assuming a threatening posture and Article 11 undercuts the Church as an invasive threat by affirming the right of individual conscience. The context of Latter-day Saint violent, and in some cases State-sanctioned, persecutions, which in part prompted the initial publication of The Articles of Faith, also necessitated an appeal to religious liberty and toleration.
- ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honouring, and sustaining the law.’
Again, the eschatological claims of Article 10 could lead some to see the Church as claiming temporal power. Article 12 clearly cedes the temporal power to national governments. This does not remove the influence of Church from affairs of the State nor does it release the Church, or her people, from their civic responsibilities; however, it affirms that the Church does not seek to set itself up as a rival government, secular power, or claim temporal jurisdiction.
- ‘We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—we believe all things, hope all things, we have endured many things, and we hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.’
The thirteenth and final Article of Faith is an expression of hope that the Latter-day Saint people will live Christian lives and, in view of the harsh persecution they experience, it is a plea for compassion and tolerance and an exhortation for them to be compassionate and tolerant.
The goal of this two-part series was to articulate the obligatory beliefs of the Latter-day Saint. There are many other things the Latter-day Saint may believe—some of which might even be true. These things, The Articles of Faith and the Baptismal Interview Questions set out the key tenets of Latter-day Saint belief and must be the starting point for any Latter-day Saint theologising.
 Joseph Smith History 1:5-7
 Joseph Smith History 1:8-9
 Mosiah 3:19, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.’; Moses 5:1-12.
 Joseph Smith History 7:12, 74