“What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet Capulet famously asked in William Shakespeare’s play. Many nowadays are probably wondering the same thing about the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its other abbreviations and nicknames. Why does it matter if you use The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church or the LDS Church? They are all the same—and the Church by any other name is still the same organization, right?
But President Russell M. Nelson and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who are the governing body of said Church, feel the need to clarify. President Nelson said in a statement,
The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so.
Thus, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is launching a major effort to use the full and proper names of the Church rather than nicknames or abbreviations. This will be no small task, especially given the popular “I’m a Mormon” campaign, the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the sites mormon.org and mormonnewsroom.org. How will the Church enact these changes? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.
Why would the Church embark on such a monumental effort as this? Well, it’s all about what’s in a name.
What’s In a Name?
Names can convey powerful meaning. For example, my oldest son is named Benjamin. I don’t call him Ben—Ben was the name of my dog growing up, and I did not name my son after the dog. Benji is the name of a TV dog. And again, my kid isn’t named after an animal, so I don’t use that nickname. I’ll sometimes call him Benja, because that’s what his little brother called him before he could say the full “Benjamin.” I am very particular about what I call my son—and all of my children. They were given names that held special meaning for me and my husband. And we have taught our children what their names mean and why they were chosen.
The same is true for the Savior and His Church. He was very specific with His modern-day prophets about what to name His Church. The Savior said,
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).
Why did the Lord give a nine-word name to His Church in the modern days? Elder Russell M. Ballard explained,
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? …
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.
The Name of the Church
When we break apart the nine-word name of the Church, it is amazingly simple yet descriptive. Elder Ballard explained,
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. …
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.
Thus, this is the restored Church of Jesus Christ in the modern days, with the same purpose and organization. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said,
Following the apostasy and disintegration of the Church He had organized while on the earth, the Lord reestablished the Church of Jesus Christ once again through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The ancient purpose remains: that is, to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances of salvation—in other words, to bring people to Christ.
What’s In a Nickname?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members have many nicknames. And while these may not be inherently bad, they are not as accurate as the official name of the Church and can be confusing. For example, many people have heard of the Mormons and the Mormon Church but don’t know how they got the nickname. Elder Ballard explained,
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.
The Savior Himself gave another reason for not using nicknames. He 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 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).
Thus, if it is called the Mormon Church, then it’s Mormon’s church. But Latter-day Saints do not follow Mormon, we follow Jesus Christ. Hence, The Church of Jesus Christ.
The Foundation of the Gospel
The name of the Church lays the foundation for talking about what the gospel is—the doctrines and teachings of Jesus Christ. Elder Christofferson said,
Jesus Himself defined that doctrine in these words recorded in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ:
“This is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
“And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
“And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
“… And whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. …
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them” (3 Nephi 11:32–35, 39).
This is our message, the rock upon which we build, the foundation of everything else in the Church. Like all that comes from God, this doctrine is pure, it is clear, it is easy to understand—even for a child. With glad hearts, we invite all to receive it.
Thus, it is The Church of Jesus Christ.
The name also conveys our belief in modern revelation. After the death of the Twelve Apostles in the New Testament, the fulness of the gospel, along with the power and authority of the priesthood, were taken from the earth. The only way to restore Christ’s Church was through revelation. Elder Ballard taught,
One of the most extraordinary events in the history of mankind occurred on a spring day in 1820 when Joseph Smith Jr. went into a grove of trees near his home to ask God for direction, light, and truth. As he knelt in humble, sincere prayer, according to his own account of the event: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
At that moment, the world became a different place. The heavens, long silent, were once again opened, and revealed light and truth poured forth, that eventually resulted in the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon the earth.
Through revelation, the Lord restored His power, priesthood and the ordinances and covenants of the gospel. The Lord continues to lead His Church by revelation to His prophets. We, also, can receive personal revelation. President Nelson said,
The Prophet Joseph Smith set a pattern for us to follow in resolving our questions. … Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort.
Disciples of Christ have been called Saints for centuries. When we are baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ, we make a covenant to take His name upon ourselves. We covenant that we will obey His commandments and follow Him, as did the Saints in ancient days. Just as it is not as accurate to call the Church Mormon’s church, it is not accurate to call members Mormons, because we do not take Mormon’s name upon ourselves. Thus, members are called Latter-day Saints, or followers of Jesus Christ in the modern days. President Nelson taught,
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, then, is a disciple of Christ. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Elder Robert D. Hales explained,
… A disciple is one who has been baptized and is willing to take upon him or her the name of the Savior and follow Him. A disciple strives to become as He is by keeping His commandments in mortality, much the same as an apprentice seeks to become like his or her master.
Many people hear the word disciple and think it means only “follower.” But genuine discipleship is a state of being. This suggests more than studying and applying a list of individual attributes. Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry.
Some may wonder why the Church has chosen now to make these changes? While it may seem sudden, it’s not really. The prophets and apostles have discussed the need to use the proper name of The Church of Jesus Christ for years.
Back in 2011, Elder Ballard said,
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 name Mormon will come to associate that word with our revealed name and with people who follow Jesus Christ.
Similar statements have been made for many years. But as to the official declaration, President Nelson said,
We know that it’s going to be a challenge to undo tradition of more than a hundred years. The Lord has told us what His Church shall be called. So, we’re not changing names, we’re correcting a name. …
We have to be careful to protect the name ‘Mormon.’ The media will think that we are tossing it out. We aren’t. We just want to be accurate. Mormon was a man. He was a prophet. He was a writer, a record keeper. We honor him and treasure the book that bears his name. We’re talking about the name of the Church.