How did the LDS Church get its official name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”
I see lots of material online on why we are called “Mormons” but I cannot seem to find anything on when/why the official name was given and what defines a “saint.” Thank you!
The naming of churches is a serious matter and not just one of your holiday games. Of course, you might think I’m as mad as a hatter when I tell you the Church has had several names. Many of these names reflect the counsel given by the Savior to the Nephites as the disciples considered what name their church should have. “Whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in [Christ’s] name; therefore ye shall call the church in [His] name” (3 Nephi 27:3-8). As such, the Church went through iterations of names by turning to the scriptures that followed this pattern. Prior to 1834, “the Church had been called ‘The Church of Christ,’ [see Mosiah 18:17, 3 Nephi 26:21,4 Nephi 1:1, Moroni 6:4, D&C 20:80, and D&C 42:78] ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ [and] ‘The Church of God’ [see 1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Mosiah 18:17, Alma 8:23, Helaman 5:35, and D&C 70:5]” (B.H. Roberts, History of the Church vol 3, 23-24).
For whatever reason, these names simply did not stick with their neighbors. Just as a person today, dissatisfied with his or her name, can change it, so also with entities including the Church. In 1834 the elders met together in a conference moderated by Joseph Smith and addressed this challenge. The name was changed, and it was resolved that notice should be published in the local periodical.
“It is now more than four years since this church was organized in these last days, and though the conferences have always shown by their minutes, that they took no other name than the name of Christ, the church has, particularly abroad, been called ‘Mormonite.’ As the members of this church profess a belief in the truth of the book of Mormon, the world, either out of contempt and ridicule, or to distinguish us from others, have been very lavish in bestowing the title of ‘Mormonite.’ Others may call themselves by their own, or by other names, and have the privilege of wearing them without our changing them or attempting so to do; but WE do not accept the above title, nor shall we wear it as OUR name, though it may be lavished out upon US double to what it has heretofore been.
“MINUTES of a Conference of the Elders of the church of Christ:
“After prayer the Conference proceeded to discuss the subject of names and appellations, when a motion was made by SIDNEY RIGDON, and seconded by NEWEL K. WHITNEY, that this church be known hereafter by the name of THE CHURCH OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS. Appropriate remarks were delivered by some of the members, after which the motion was put by the Moderator, and passed by unanimous voice” (Evening and Morning Star, Kirtland, Ohio, May 3, 1834).
If you look at the Kirtland temple, you will see signage informing you that it was “BUILT BY THE CHURCH OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS. A.D. 1834”, because that was the Church’s official name during this period. Elder Ballard commented on the significance of this name:
“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.” (The Importance of a Name, October 2011 General Conference).
The name the Church bears today was not given by detractors or a church council, but by Jesus Himself. “[T]hus shall my church be called in the last days,” declares the Lord, “even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4). It is a divine approval of the name church leaders counseled on, combined with the doctrinal mandate that the Church bear Christ’s name. B.H. Roberts finds this nomenclature commendable.
“The appropriateness of this title is self evident, and in it there is a beautiful recognition of the relationship both of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Saints to the organization. It is ‘The Church of Jesus Christ.’ It is the Lord’s; He owns it, He organized it. It is the Sacred Depository of His truth. It is His instrumentality for promulgating all those spiritual truths with which He would have mankind acquainted. It is also His instrumentality for the perfecting of the Saints, as well as for the work of the ministry. It is His in all these respects; but it is an institution which also belongs to the Saints. It is their refuge from the confusion and religious doubt of the world. It is their instructor in principle, doctrine, and righteousness. It is their guide in matters of faith and morals. They have a conjoint ownership in it with Jesus Christ, which ownership is beautifully recognized in the latter part of the title. ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints,’ is equivalent to ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ and ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints’” (History of the Church vol 3, 23-24).