“Name of the Church,” Church History Topics
“Name of the Church”
The Book of Mormon reports that when Jesus Christ visited the Nephites, He taught that the Church should be called after His name. Those baptized in the name of Christ became part of “the church of Christ” (3 Nephi 26:21; see also 27:8). In the New Testament, Paul refers to early Christians as “saints” (Ephesians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1). Believing that they lived near the time of the second coming of Jesus Christ, members of the restored Church of Christ called themselves “Latter-day Saints” to distinguish themselves from the Saints of former days.
Even before the Church was organized, Oliver Cowdery followed Book of Mormon precedent in proposing “the Church of Christ” as a name for the Church. 1 On the day the Church was organized, Joseph Smith was called by revelation as an “Elder unto this Church of Christ.” 2 Thereafter, the early revelations repeatedly referred to the Church as “the Church of Christ” and to its members as “saints.” 3
The restored Church of Christ was not the only body of Christian believers called by the name “the Church of Christ.” Some Congregational churches in New England called themselves by this name, and professing Christians sometimes referred to themselves collectively as the church of Christ. To help the Saints distinguish themselves from other Christians, elders at a conference at Kirtland, Ohio, voted on May 3, 1834, to change the name of the Church to “the Church of the Latter Day Saints.” 4 Besides lending clarity, the new name also distanced the Church from the terms “Mormon” and “Mormonite” used by opponents of the Church. 5
Even after this change, members of the Church occasionally used the earlier name or combined the old and new names into a hybrid: “the church of Christ of Latter Day Saints.” 6 Soon after the Latter-day Saints settled in Far West, Missouri, a revelation incorporated both previous names into a new name: “For thus shall my Church be called in the Last days even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” 7 This name has remained the official name of the Church to the present day.
Although the name itself persisted after 1838, variant formats circulated in publications, letterhead, legal documents, and public forums well into the 20th century. During much of this time, English spelling was irregular, even among literary institutions such as newspapers and publishing houses. 8 After Joseph Smith’s death, several offshoot groups claimed the term “Latter Day Saints,” with some churches maintaining the 1838 revealed name of the Church. 9 The British convention of hyphenating and using a small d in “Latter-day Saints” appeared most often in materials produced by the Utah-based Church and was fairly common as early as 1851, though not officially standardized until a century later. 10 By assignment from the First Presidency, James E. Talmage prepared a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1921, and when rendering the name in section 115, Talmage capitalized “The” mid-verse, departing from the format of the History of the Church volumes he used as the source text. 11 In 1957 during a finance meeting, J. Reuben Clark Jr., Second Counselor in the First Presidency, inquired about the legal format of the name and was answered that other leaders figured the 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants represented the standard. 12 A committee organized of editors across Church departments and publications prepared a style guide in 1966 and 1967 that ensured the same format of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” for all materials where the Church would be identified. Internal communications and style guides based on this original manual maintained the format thereafter. 13
By the beginning of the 20th century, many Latter-day Saints self-identified using the terms “Mormon” and “LDS.” The terms “Mormon Church” and “LDS Church” subsequently came into vogue and were frequently used by both leaders, members, and nonmembers. In the 1960s and 1970s, Church leaders began to emphasize the use of the Church’s revealed name or the short title “Church of Jesus Christ” over these other nicknames. 14 In 2001, the First Presidency reiterated the importance of using the Church’s revealed name as a part of “our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world.” 15 In 2018, President Russell M. Nelson led a review of the use and format of the name across all Church organizations and departments and invited Latter-day Saints and the general public to remember the correct name when referencing the Church and its members. 16
Related Topics: Founding Meeting of the Church of Christ