Church of Christ (Mormonism)

From Academic Kids

The Church of Christ was the original name given to the church formally organized by Joseph Smith, Jr. and five other men in upstate New York on April 6, 1830. The Latter Day Saint or Mormonism movement traces its origin to this event and many Latter Day Saint denominations consider themselves to be the sole legitimate continuation of this church. The largest of these is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the Community of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the Church of Christ (Cutlerite) also all claim to be the legitimate successor to the original Church of Christ.

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The Name of the Church

In the early 1800s, Alexander Campbell others began to popularize the idea among Christians in the United States that the division among Christian sects had been caused by a Great Apostasy from the original teachings of Jesus, practiced by the primitive Christian church. Campbell and his associates founded the Restoration Movement, arguing that the true practices of Christianity could be achieved by restoring practices described in the New Testament. The Restorationists also intended to eliminate sectarianism, arguing that there should be only one Christian church and that it should be named, the "Church of Christ."

Most historians of religion categorize the Latter Day Saint movement as part of or an off-shoot of the larger Restoration movement, but there are significant differences. While early Latter Day Saints believed in the need to "restore" the "true church of Jesus Christ," they also believed that direct authority from God was essential for the restoration to be valid. Joseph Smith, Jr., the Latter Day Saint movement's founder, claimed to possess that authority as a Prophet who received revelations.

Smith's revelations authorized and commanded the organization of the Church of Christ in 1830, and in many of the revelations Smith claimed to receive, God referred to the church by that name. Smith taught that this church was a restoration of the primitive Christian church established by Jesus in the first century A.D. Moreover, Smith taught that this restoration occurred in the "Latter Days" of the world, i.e., the time immediately prior to the Second Coming of Jesus.

Early Changes to the Church's Name

The fact that the churches of other Christian Restorationists, including the Campbellites, were also named the "Church of Christ" caused a considerable degree of confusion in the first years of the Latter Day Saint movement. Because of the distinct belief in the Book of Mormon among Smith's followers, people outside the church began to refer them as "Mormonites" or "Mormons." Smith and other church elders considered the name "Mormon" derogatory. To avoid confusion, they decided to change the name of the church to the "Church of the Latter Day Saints." (Because members of the primitive Christian movement are often referred to as "Saints" or "early Saints," they reasoned that members of the restored church likewise should be called "Saints," but of the "Latter Days.")

The name change caused a great deal of dissent among early members of the movement who believed that God had instituted the original name. The headquarters gathering of the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio collapsed into schism in 1837. The schismatics, led by Warren Parrish took control of the Kirtland Temple and changed the name of the church back to the "Church of Christ." Meanwhile, church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., and those loyal to him, founded a new headquarters in Far West, Missouri. At Far West in 1838, Smith announced a revelation renaming his organization: "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints."

Later Variations on the Name

After Smith's assassination, competing Latter Day Saint denominations organized under the leadership of a number of successors. The largest of these, led by Brigham Young and now based in Salt Lake City, Utah, standardized the spelling of its name as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1856. Followers of James J. Strang retain the spelling "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" in the name of their church. The name "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" was also used for decades by members who coalesced into a "New Organization" of the church under the leadership of Smith's son, Joseph Smith III. For legal reasons, this group changed its corporate name to "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" at the end of the 19th century and more recently changed their name again to "Community of Christ" — consciously echoing the original "Church of Christ" name.

Other Latter Day Saint denominations felt strongly about returning to the original name, including the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), the Church of Christ (Bickertonite), the Church of Christ (Cutlerite), and the now-extinct Church of Christ (Whitmerite).

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