The December 2013 issue of the Mormon Church’s Ensign magazine contains an article by John Welch titled, “The Articles of Faith and the Life of Joseph Smith.” In this article, Dr. Welch goes through the 13 Articles of Faith (canonized in the Mormon scripture The Pearl of Great Price) to help readers see Joseph Smith’s life “in a meaningful framework.” By considering the historical events that accompanied the founding of Mormonism, today’s Mormons can better understand “some key doctrines of the restored gospel” as outlined by Joseph Smith in these Articles. To that end, Dr. Welch invites his readers to “consider some ways in which the Articles of Faith and the life of Joseph Smith are aligned.”
The Articles of Faith were first published in 1842, in the Mormon periodical Times and Seasons. They were taken from a letter that Joseph Smith had written in the spring of that year to John Wentworth, the editor of the Chicago Democrat. Nine years later, in 1851, these same Articles of Faith were included in The Pearl of Great Price, a collection of Joseph Smith’s writings that were not yet canonized. The Pearl of Great Price became a standard work (scripture) of the Mormon Church in 1880, making the Articles of Faith official doctrine of the Church from that time onward (Church History in the Fulness of Times, Religion 341-343, 257).
The Articles of Faith today are mostly unchanged from when Joseph Smith affirmed them in his letter to John Wentworth, but a significant change was made to Article 4 sometime between the 1888 and 1928 editions of The Pearl of Great Price.
Articles 3 and 4 as originally written by Joseph Smith, canonized as scripture, and declared “official doctrine” by the Mormon Church read as follows:
“We believe that, through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
“We believe that these ordinances are: First, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; Second, Repentance; Third, Baptism by immerssion for the remission of sins; Fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (The Pearl of Great Price, 1888, 121)
Joseph Smith’s declaration was that the salvation of mankind (on man’s part) was achieved by obedience to laws and four distinct ordinances of the gospel — specifically defined as faith, repentance, baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Article of Faith 4 was changed in later years. Now the dual Articles read (additions in bold for clarity):
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Articles of Faith 3-4, The Pearl of Great Price)
Therefore, the doctrinal declaration in the 4th Article of Faith was changed. It no longer states that mankind may be saved by obedience to four specific ordinances of the gospel. Now mankind may be saved, it indicates, by obedience to an unspecified set of ordinances, with just the first of these being the four ordinances that previously comprised the whole requirement.
Marion Romney, then a member of the First Presidency speaking at General Conference in 1974, defined what the word “saved” means in the 3rd Article of Faith:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms as its Third Article of Faith…
“In these remarks I shall set forth some views of the church of Jesus Christ on this subject.
“Saved as here used means resurrected and returned as a sanctified, celestialized, immortal soul to the presence and society of God, there to pursue an endless course of eternal progress.” (“How Men Are Saved,” General Conference, October 1974)
When Joseph Smith first wrote the Articles of Faith in the spring of 1842, temple ordinances (endowments, eternal marriages, sealings) were not fully developed doctrines of the Church – they were not yet required for salvation. But that changed.
“…the ordinance of [temple] sealing is an absolute, and that without it there can be no salvation in the eternal world, no eternal life.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Ordinances of the Gospel,” cited in Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 204)
“The temple blessings are as essential for each of us as our baptism. For this reason, we are to prepare ourselves that we may be clean to enter into the temple of God” (Robert D. Hales, “Temples are essential to eternal plan of happiness,” Church News, November 19, 2005, 5).
“Temple ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world are for the salvation and exaltation of God’s children. It is important that the saving ordinances not be altered or changed, because all of those who will be exalted, from the first man, Adam, to the last, must be saved on the same principles.” (Royden G. Derrick, Temples in the Last Days, 36)
“We must do more than just say we believe in Jesus Christ; we must follow him. All people, regardless of their level of righteousness, will be saved from death because of the Resurrection of Christ. However, in order to attain the highest degree of glory in the resurrection, we need to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him’ (Moroni 10:32). We come unto Christ by having faith in him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, receiving other saving priesthood ordinances, obeying the commandments, and keeping the covenants we make with our Heavenly Father.” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 39)
“The Lord Himself has revealed what is essential for the salvation and exaltation of His children. One of these essentials is that temples are to be erected for the performance of ordinances that cannot be performed in any other place… All of these priesthood temple ordinances [i.e., baptism for the dead, endowments, celestial marriages and sealings] are essential for the salvation and exaltation of our Father in Heaven’s children.” (Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, March 2004)
“All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them.” (Ibid.)
In 1842 Joseph Smith taught there were four ordinances required for the salvation of mankind; today the Mormon Church says these four ordinances are just the beginning.
It’s too bad that Dr. Welch’s December 2013 Ensign article reflected the modern version of the Articles of Faith rather than the Articles as Joseph Smith wrote them. Dr. Welch missed an opportunity to further enrich his theme of “[bringing] to light the main stages in Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission and inspired life” by neglecting the way in which today’s 4th Article of Faith and the life of Joseph Smith are historically unaligned.