Mormon Terminology

Dr. Andrew Jackson

This appendix contains basic and generalized Mormon terminology collected from LDS resources. For further clarification on Mormon terminology, see (A–Z Index) and (Glossary). But realize that many of these definitions often lack clarity and specifics.

Agency. The ability and freedom to choose good or evil.

Apostasy. A condition of spiritual withdrawal from the Father in heaven. A period of time when the priesthood and the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness were not on the earth.

Atonement of Jesus Christ. To atone is to suffer the penalty for sins, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinner and allowing him or her to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of carrying out the atonement for all humankind. Because of his atonement, all people will be resurrected, and those who obey his gospel will merit eternal life with God.

Baptisms for the dead. Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. -Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, he has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.

Celestial kingdom. The highest of the three degrees or kingdoms of glory in heaven, in which one is in the presence of the heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Eternal life. Eternal life is the phrase used in Scripture to define the quality of life that the Eternal Father lives. Eternal life, or exaltation, is to live in God’s presence and to continue as families. Like immortality, this gift is made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. To inherit eternal life, however, requires “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith 1:3).

Excommunication. A disciplinary process used only in extreme situations, excommunication includes removal of an individual’s name from the records of the church. Excommunicated individuals have the opportunity to return and have their church membership restored through the process of repentance and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.

Foreordination. In the premortal spirit-world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination. Foreordination does not guarantee that individuals will receive certain callings or responsibilities. Such opportunities come in this life as a result of the righteous exercise of agency, just as foreordination came as a result of righteousness in the premortal existence.

Grace. Through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, humankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his or her body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on Christ and repent of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good efforts, and receive eternal life and exaltation.

Gospel. The gospel is the heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “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 1:4).

Hell. Latter-day revelations speak of hell in at least two ways. First, it is another name for spirit-prison, a temporary place in the postmortal world for those who died without a knowledge of the truth or those who were disobedient in mortality. Second, it is the permanent location of Satan and his followers and the sons of perdition, who are not redeemed by the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Laying on of hands. The laying on of hands is the procedure revealed by the Lord for performing many priesthood ordinances, such as confirmation, ordination, setting members apart to serve in callings, administering to the sick, and giving other priesthood blessings.

Ordinances. In the church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to one’s exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing.

Original sin. Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, all people live in a fallen condition, separated from God and subject to physical death. But they are not condemned by what many call the original sin. In other words, people are not accountable for Adam’s transgression in the garden of Eden.

Paradise. Paradise is that part of the spirit-world in which the righteous spirits who have departed from this life await the resurrection of the body. It is a condition of happiness and peace.

Pre-earth life. A person’s life before being born on this earth is his or her pre-earth life. In the pre-earth life, people lived in the presence of the heavenly Father as his spirit-children. They did not have physical bodies.

Priesthood. The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God. Through the priesthood God created and governs the heavens and the earth. God gives priesthood authority to worthy male members of the church so that they can act in his name for the salvation of his children. Priesthood holders can be authorized to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation, and govern the kingdom of God on the earth.

Restoration of the gospel. When Jesus Christ was on the earth, he established his church among his followers. After his crucifixion and the deaths of his apostles, the fullness of the gospel was taken from the earth because of widespread apostasy. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Father in heaven and his Son Jesus Christ restored the fullness of the gospel. The true church of Jesus Christ is on the earth again. Because of the restoration, the teachings and ordinances necessary for salvation are available to all people.

Salvation. In the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the terms saved and salvation have various meanings. As used in Romans 10:9–10, the words saved and salvation signify a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. Through this covenant relationship, followers of Christ are assured of salvation from the eternal consequences of sin if they are obedient.

Sealing. Sealing is an ordinance performed in the temple eternally uniting a husband and wife, or children and their parents.

Spirits. Each individual is a spirit-child of the heavenly Father and existed as a spirit before this life on earth. During this life, the spirit of the individual is housed in a physical body, which was born of mortal parents.

Spirit-world. Human spirits go to the spirit-world between death and resurrection.

Telestial kingdom. The Telestial kingdom is the lowest of the three degrees or kingdoms of glory in heaven.

Temples. Temples are literally houses of the Lord. They are holy places of worship where individuals make sacred covenants with God. Because making covenants with God is such a solemn responsibility, individuals cannot enter the temple to receive their endowments or be sealed in marriage for eternity until they have fully prepared themselves and been members of the church for at least a year. Throughout history, the Lord has commanded his people to build temples. The church is working to build temples all over the world to make temple blessings more available for a greater number of the heavenly Father’s children.

Terrestrial kingdom. The Terrestrial kingdom is the middle degree or kingdom of the three degrees of glory in heaven.

Vicarious work. Ordinance work done on behalf of those who are deceased is vicarious work.

Water baptism.
Baptism by immersion in water by one having priesthood authority is the
first saving ordinance of the gospel and is necessary for an individual to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to receive eternal salvation.

Zion. The word Zion has various meanings in the Scriptures. The most general definition of the word is “the pure in heart.” Zion is often used in this way to refer to the Lord’s people or to the church and its stakes. It has also been used to refer to specific geographical locations.