THE ARTICLES OF FAITH
In March 1841, Joseph Smith-the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints-wrote a short statement in reply to a newspaper's request that he explain Mormonism. Part of his reply outlined 13 of the church's core tenets, which are now known as The Articles of Faith. While The Articles of Faith are best understood when considered as a whole, two in particular capture the essence of Mormonism: first, belief in Jesus Christ as the literal and atoning Son of God; and, second, belief in the modern-day restoration of the church that Christ organized during His mortal ministry.
THE ATONEMENT OF JESUS CHRIST
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
At the very core of Mormonism, one finds belief in Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. However, in order to fully understand the Mormon conception of Christ's role and its centrality to Mormonism, one must first understand Mormons' "Plan of Salvation."
The Plan of Salvation is a summary of the origin, purpose, and final destiny of mankind. Mormons believe that all human beings are God's children, and that they lived in His presence before their birth into this world. In this pre-Earth life, certain differences distinguished God from His children. First, His children existed as spiritual beings who lacked a physical body. Because of this, spiritual progression would be impeded, as they would not have the opportunity to learn to let spiritual desires override carnal desires. Second, they lacked the knowledge gained by experiencing mortality and learning to choose good over evil.
Because of God's love for His children, He implemented a plan that would allow them to gain a physical body and experience mortality. This would, in turn, provide an opportunity for God's children to grow and progress further than if they had remained in the premortal world. This plan was taught to all of God's children in the pre-Earth life, and all were given the opportunity to accept or reject it.
Knowledge of the premortal life would be withheld from God's children as they entered mortality so that each could learn to distinguish between good and evil without the aid of a clear memory of their divine origin. However, in learning to choose good, it was inevitable that mistakes would be made. Sin would make God's children unworthy to return to His presence unless they were first cleansed.
The introduction of mortality into the world and the consequence of sin are illustrated in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve transgressed against one of God's laws, and were consequently cast out of the Garden. Thus they became mortal, and physical death entered the world. In addition, they were separated from the presence of God-a separation that Mormons describe as a "spiritual death."
It is important to understand the relationship between Adam's transgression and its effect on his posterity in Mormon theology. The second article of faith states, "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression" (Intellectual Reserve, 1981). Therefore, the fault for Adam's action is not shared with his posterity. However, the effects that Adam introduced into the world are.
The need for a Savior is now clear. As imperfect fallen beings, neither Adam nor his descendants could overcome physical and spiritual death. The only way for mankind to overcome its fall would be for a divine being to make intercession on behalf of humanity. Furthermore, because Adam's fall was infinite in its effect on humanity, this intercession would likewise need to be infinite in its influence. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
Jesus Christ, being the Son of God and a perfect being, took upon himself the sins of the world. He thereby satisfied the demands of justice, clearing the way for God's children to be forgiven of their sins insofar as they believed in Him and obeyed His teachings. Thus, he attained the power to cleanse God's children and make them worthy to return to God's presence. Furthermore, because Christ was the Son of God through a mortal woman-in other words, both fully human and fully divine-He had the power both to die and to overcome death (John 5:26). As a result of Christ's resurrection, all of God's children will likewise be resurrected, their spirits reuniting with their physical bodies.
By overcoming both sin and death, then, Christ provided the means for Adam's descendants to be redeemed from physical and spiritual death. It is Christ's mission that makes God's plan of salvation possible, and for this reason faith in Christ is the foundation of Mormon belief.
CHRIST'S PRIMITIVE CHURCH RESTORED
The Sixth Article of Faith articulates the second central tenet of Mormonism: "We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth." (Intellectual Reserve, 1981)