The “New” Articles of Faith

In 1907, in an effort to put in place a picture of Mormonism for a 20th century audience, the Church, by common consent, approved a list of beliefs as well as explanation and confirmation of a transitioning Mormonism.[1] That effort may have had some impact within the Church, but its lasting effect as a new public direction in doctrine was minor in terms of its traction outside the Church and especially in the collective memory of the media, such as it was. However, since it was approved by the body of the Church as a description of the high points, the key points, of Mormonism, I want you to have a look at those “canonical” -binding- statements. So here they are in brief:

1. We believe in the Godhead, comprising the three individual personages, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Now that one is merely a repeat of “old” article of faith no. 1.

2. We hold that man is verily the child of God, formed in His image, endowed with divine attributes, and possessing power to rise from the gross desires of earth to the ennobling aspirations of heaven.

“verily” here could be read as “literally,” right? But the “child of God” trope isn’t quite as explicit as earlier statements which I won’t go into here.

3. We believe in the pre-existence of man as a spirit, and in a future state of individual existence, in which every soul shall find its place, as determined by justice and mercy, with opportunities of endless progression, in the varied conditions of eternity.

Now this appeals to everyone who had a stake in the “nature” of eternal progression. Whether the Brigham Young view or the Orson Pratt view. Preexistence is fundamental to Mormonism and perhaps plays a larger role in folk Mormon beliefs than any other. Given the brewing conflict over the King Follett discourse inside Church councils, this is a purposefully non-specific statement in some ways.

4. We believe in the free agency of man, and therefore in his individual responsibility.

How interesting is this? “Free agency.” (grin) And a clear knock on exhaustive foreknowledge! (wider grin – but see below)

5. We believe that salvation is for no select few, but that all men may he saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

Not a universalist view perhaps, but definitely in the anti-Calvinist camp and recalls original AoF

6. We affirm that to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel, authority must be given of God; and that this authority is the power of the Holy Priesthood.

A repeat of “old” article of faith 5 but in terms that reflect the 60 year difference.

7. We affirm that through the ministration of immortal personages, the Holy Priesthood has been conferred upon men in the present age, and that under this divine authority the Church of Christ has been organized.

While the original articles make clear the necessity of Divine authority in the sacraments, this one makes explicit reference to angelic conferral of authority. The emphasis here is interesting in light of the charges of various groups that Mormonism had begun as an ego trip by its earthly founder.

8. We proclaim the objects of this organization to be, the preaching of the gospel in all the world, the gathering of scattered Israel, and the preparation of a people for the coming of the Lord.

Here we have the original version of the three-fold mission. Gathering is a loaded word of course.

9. We declare that from principle and policy, we favor:

The absolute separation of church and state;
No domination of the state by the church;
No church interference with the functions of the state;
No state interference with the functions of the church, or with the free exercise of religion;
The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs;
The equality of all churches before the law.

The original had carried a load of explanation and history, but I won’t give that here. It boiled down to explaining the origin, persistence and then gradual cessation of polygamy and the termination of Church involvement in state government.

This one is quite interesting in light of various public positions and actions the Church has taken on prohibition, equal rights for women, prop 8, etc.

Finally, the presidency (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund) makes this interesting declaration:

We refuse to be bound by the interpretations which others place upon our beliefs, or by what they allege must be the practical consequences of our doctrines. Men have no right to impute to us what they think may be the logical deduction from our beliefs, but which we ourselves do not accept. We are to be judged by our own interpretations and by our own actions, not by the logic of others, as to what is, or may be, the result of our faith. We deny that our belief in divine revelation, or our anticipation of the coming kingdom of God weakens in any degree the genuineness of our allegiance to our country. When the divine empire will be established, we may not know any more than other Christians who pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven;” but we do know that our allegiance and loyalty to our country are strengthened by the fact that while awaiting the advent of the Messiah’s kingdom, we are under a commandment from God to be subject to the powers that be, until He comes “whose right it is to reign.”

So, my question is this: what about a new list of articles, now? The publicity arm of the Church has made it clear that doctrines, while not necessarily repudiated, may recede into the background of Church discussion while others swing to the front. Considering the big 13 in the Pearl of Great Price, which ones have or should recede and what others might take their place in prominence? Should we add to them? Do the original articles define Mormonism now?

[1] See for example, Conference Report April 1907, or The Improvement Era 10:481-495 (May, 1907), or James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.4, p.143-155. I’m approaching this from a different angle here and since I won’t be touching on these new AoF statements there, this seemed the ideal place.


  1. In 1907, in an effort to put in place a picture of Mormonism for a 20th century audience, the Church, by common consent, approved a list of beliefs as well as explanation and confirmation of a transitioning Mormonism.

    Does this mean they were considered “scripture”, prophecy, or just church policy? Or can that even be inferred?

    As for your questions in your last paragraph: Well, thats above my pay grade.

  2. I think the Articles are long overdue for an update. Their current status as an unalterable creed is actually quite ironic, considering Joseph’s views on creeds.

    I especially like Parley Pratt’s views of religion in Key to the Science of Theology, expressed in its introduction, where he pointed out that Theology, by necessity, should be updated and made living based on advances in science, additional revelation, and further understanding of the former scriptures.

    I’m surprised we haven’t seen a revision of the Doctrine and Covenants – perhaps the release of the Church-published Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations & Translations, vol 2 – Published Revelations, containing the multiple editions and altered versions of the revelations published in Joseph’s lifetime may assist members in understanding that the D&C (as a compilation, and the individual past recorded revelations within) were never intended to be static, but to be a living revelatory document.

  3. “The Creeds of the Fathers,” says Parley Pratt, “seem to have been cast in the mould of other ages…not sufficiently elastic to expand with the expansion of mind, to grow with the growth, and advance with the progressive principles of the age.”

  4. if we were to write new ones what would they look like? if we did it based on what is emphasized now it would be:

    Familys are important. Gender roles are important.
    Jesus is the center of the religion.
    Prophets speak to God and lead the church.
    Word of Wisdom and Tithing are of utmost importance.
    Sexual sin and pornography is terribile.

    Everything else

  5. B. Russ, the language of the fore part of the document characterizes it as an official declaration.

  6. I wonder if they meant it to be taken up in the D&C. From what you’ve said, it has literally been canonized as it has gone through the by common consent process, is that right?

  7. Hands raised in GC.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Those are pretty interesting; I had never seen them before.

    I do think our canonical 13 could use a modern scrubbing. Here are three things that jump out at me:

    1. We could lighten up a bit on the primitive church stuff in 6. For one thing, pastors and evangelists are not really part of our vocabulary. For another, the restoration veered off into restoring ancient israel as much or more than the primitive Christian Church. It’s not really true that our church organization mirrors that of the Church circa Acts.

    2. In 8, “as far as it is translated correctly” should expressly modify both the Bibla *and* the BoM.

    3. The one I particularly dislike is 10, as it leads to a lot of nonsense about the Lost Ten Tribes being in existence somewhere as a self-aware whole, which leads to theories about them being at the north pole or inside the earth. They were almost certainly absorbed into the Assyrian populations they were removed to and do not exist today as a self-aware whole.

  9. My wife was saying just yesterday that she isn’t a fan of the “We believe all things” part. She said it makes us sound like robots.

    I for one wouldn’t mind a little more clarification on the twelfth. I know what obeying the law is. I kinda know what honoring the law is. Not sure what sustaining the law is.

  10. That “believe all things” is an allusion to Paul, which we likely miss.
    Charity… “[b]eareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” 1Co 13:7

  11. Jennifer in GA says:

    I’m all for ANY revision if it means we don’t have to sing those AWFUL Articles of Faith songs in the primary song book. They are seriously heinous.

    For some reason, our primary presidency has made us sing one a month, every Sunday, for the past three years because it supposedly helps them kids learn the AoF easier. Meanwhile, I’m in the back of the primary room slitting my wrists because listening to and trying to sing these songs are torture I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

  12. I agree with Kevin about #10, it would suffice for us to say that we believe in the second coming of Christ without all the stuff about the “literal” gathering of the lost tribes. I think the Church has somewhat backpedaled on this stance in recent decades anyway, with the idea that the gathering of Zion is more figurative, that it happens all around the world where the pure in heart are assembled with the restored gospel. Is it really critical to state that the new Jerusalem will be built upon this continent? It’s not a core doctrine that defines our day to day life as members of the restored Church.

  13. I think I’ve seen something else like that last citation. This may or may not be it.

    “We do not expect that all men will view our faith and formulae through our eyes. Neither do we condemn or anathematize those who honestly differ with us or actively oppose our doctrines and practices. We claim religious liberty, the freedom of speech and of the press, and the right to combat what we believe to be error by all legitimate means, and we frankly accord this freedom to others. But we do object to misrepresentation and defamation of our principles and character and the lives and objects of our leading men. We do object to articles and sermons against certain views and actions attributed to us without any reason in truth. . . .
    We are anxious to have “Mormonism” exposed. . . . We only ask that what they hold up to the world as our doctrines really are our doctrines, and not some ridiculous fabrication designed to deceive the public and injure us. (May 31, 1879, MS 41:387) George Q. Cannon

  14. How about:

    “We believe that that mercy is greater than justice, that kindness is greater than coercion, and that forgiveness, not judgment, is the crux of Christ’s ministry.”

    (Or would too many members object on the grounds that the center can’t hold without firm and repeated declarations of the law?)

  15. Matthew Chapman says:

    I am disturbed by

    5. We believe that salvation is for no select few, but that all men may he saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

    as opposed to

    3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

    In (3) it is clear mankind is saved through the Atonement (by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel).

    (5) appears to claim that mankind is saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances alone. Unless we count the Atonement as one of the ordinances of the gospel.

  16. #15: None of the ” Articles of Faith” have any meaning unless or until the words ( saved, obedience, Atonement, laws, ordinances of the gospel) are defined.

  17. Re 11:

    I so agree with you. Those songs are awful. So if we get new AoF it would really help with musical composition if they had some rhyme and rhythm.

  18. 15 – Good point. I agree completely. The newer one puts the emphasis on man and his ability to save himself.
    JS’s AoF#3 put the emphasis on Christ’s sacrifice. I think thats an important difference.

  19. 16 – I think for the sake of this discussion, we can safely assume that words like: Saved, Obedience, Atonement, Laws, Ordinances, and Gospel
    have been sufficiently well defined in every single Sunday School class any of us have ever been to. And that given that, the two articles of faith have very significant differences in emphasis.

  20. #19:You assume wrong. I have seen every one of these words debated on this blog.
    Also,in dedate is if they replace JS’s AoF?

  21. I have seen every one of these words debated on this blog.

    And every Sunday School class since the beginning of time. Debating the meaning of words is to intelligent discussion, what Jersey Shore is to artful filmmaking (or quesadillas are to gourmet cuisine).

    But, I guess if you’d like to get out Webster’s before we discuss the differences of the two AoFs, that could be a fruitful endeavor.

  22. #22 Cute__but not helpful. ( There are 3 sets of the AoF).

  23. StillConfused says:

    Luckily they hadn’t invented those songs when I was a kid. But if I were in primary and they annoyed me, I would just bust out a Popcorn Popping solo.

  24. Bob,

    I think you’re quibbling over something everyone understands but since you want an appeal for definition let’s go to the authority. How about this:

    “Saved” as defined by Elder Oaks in a very comprehensive manner.

    “Obedience” as defined by President Kimball: “We render intelligent, constructive obedience when we voluntarily, humbly, and happily obey the commands of our Lord.” And if you want to quibble on what those commands are then D&C 1:38 answers that question.

    “Atonement” – exhaustively treated by Nibley in the 1990 Ensign starting with Part 1 in July and continuing through Part 4 in October.

    “Laws” – in this case it’s pretty straightforward as the laws are outlined in the temple but let’s make it as simple as possible. Love God and Love your neighbor as Jesus taught in Matthew 22:36-40 as on these hang all the law and prophets.

    “Ordinances of the Gospel” as defined by the Church Handbook of Instruction: – where those necessary for exaltation are outlined.

    For other ordinances we refer to section 20:

    We may be missing obscure ordinances but these are the mainstream and core of what any AoF would focus on anyway.

  25. B.Russ, I would seriously doubt those who authored that offensive (to you) statement would never suggest that all or any could be saved without Christ.

    On the other hand, there might be some debate actually, as to whether you could be saved without Christ had you lived a perfect life. Is it possible for one to be saved if they were as perfect as Christ? Would they have progressed to receive a fullness of the Father (D&C Sec. 93) just as Christ had? Entirely theoretical of course, as no such person could ever really exist. But if we want to play theory, I would suggest, if one were as perfect as Christ in this life, the only thing he and Christ would have in difference is Christ would still be the only begotten of the Father, born to a virgin mother, while the other person would not have been and would lack that additional divine characteristic.

    You could then go on to reason that perhaps this persons perfection could result in them saving themself, but that they would not be able to save others, as they lacked the inherently divine nature the Lord had.

    But you could just as easily say, that such a thing is impossible, even if they were perfect, since they are in a fallen world and will experience death. Perfection does not give one power over death. But still, they would be blaimless and sinless, unless you believe they inherit responsibility for the sins of Adam.

    Anyway, long story short, no one in the church believes now or has ever believed that Christ’s sacrifice was not the “thing” that makes salvation possible. But the fact is sometimes we don’t fit every possible qualifying clause into every statement we make on the subject, leaving room for nitpickers to pick nits.

  26. offensive?

    Also, if emphasis on grace versus works is for “nitpickers” then I think Paul, James, and a whole slew of others are going to have words with you someday.

  27. I sincerely don’t understand this whole thread. How do you just “change” your doctrines? Is it the Word of God or not? This is man-made….you just “change” it to fit the times….”For, All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field, the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the Word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

%d bloggers like this: