What is a Latter-day Saint?
“We are still Latter Day Saints, all of us, even if we change some things or we break the rules or we have complete doubt that God exists.”
This claim is not necessarily true, and reminds me of something C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity:
“People ask: ‘Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?’: or ‘May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?’ Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful.”
We can degrade the meaning of “Latter-day Saint” as Elder Price suggests, but at this point the word will have lost all meaning and, consequently, all usefulness (for more on this discussion in relation to the term “Christian”, see this post on the preface of Mere Christianity).
So what is a Latter-day Saint? What does a Latter-day Saint believe? A good place to start might be with the baptismal questions (see this post on the song “Baptize Me”). A Latter-day Saint believes that:
- God is the Eternal Father
- Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and redeemer of the world
- The Church and gospel of Jesus Christ was restored through Joseph Smith
- The Church is led by a prophet, currently Thomas S. Monson
Those that change the teachings of the scriptures or living prophets, or suggest disobedience to those teachings, don’t qualify as a Latter-day Saint. This is why members of splinter groups like the Fundamentalist LDS Church or Reorganized LDS Church are not considered Latter-day Saints. The group of villagers in the song would similarly not be considered Latter-day Saints as long as they taught from the “Book of Arnold”.
The good news is, though, that if they desired to belong to the Church it would only take a few missionary lessons!
What of those who break the rules? Certainly simple mistakes are not disqualifying. The Atonement provides us the ability to repent and return to him when we commit sin. It is true that some serious sins lead to Church discipline, but disfellowship and excommunication are paths meant to lead through repentance and to full forgiveness and fellowship in the Church once again.