Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently addressed students at the Harvard Law School. [Find transcript of Elder Holland’s Harvard Law School address.] He urged students of the law to take religion seriously, and then, in response to the invitation extended him, shared some of his thoughts about what we’ll refer to here as the “Mormon moment” — for example, about seeing two Mormons running for president, and seeing New York City taxi toppers advertising the Book of Mormon musical. He quipped that the Church’s rejoinder to the musical has been: “Now you’ve seen the show; read the book!”
But his main point in this address is that the contemporary “Mormon moment” attention doesn’t mean much without understanding the fundamentals of Mormon beliefs. And the majority of his remarks focus on those fundamentals.
Mormons believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in priesthood authority, in a loss of that authority for a millennium and a half, necessitating a Restoration of such authority and of doctrinal truth lost through the time of apostasy. He references verses from the Bible, as well as explains latter-day Restoration history. But he also explains Mormon belief in a divine plan of God. We believe in a literal Adam and Eve, in the fall of mankind, in the need for a Savior, and in God’s universal love for all His children and His invitation to all to come to Christ and be saved by Him.
He concludes by addressing the question of why some think Mormons are not Christians. He concedes that we aren’t “creedal Christians” or “fourth-century Christians.” We “teach that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ are separate and distinct beings with glorified bodies of flesh and bone.” And we declare that they are also one in mind, purpose, intent, love and more. “In this manner, we differ from traditional creedal Christianity, but we do feel we agree with the New Testament.”
We also differ from traditional Christianity in that we believe the heavens and the canon are not closed. Prophets and apostles are on the earth as they were in ancient times. We believe God continues to speak through prophetic revelation. (General Conference is a time when we look forward to hearing from living prophets and apostles.)
Lastly, our Mormon beliefs are unique in the world of Christianity as we claim that priesthood authority was lost and then restored to the earth by those who anciently held the authority, restored to be able to perform authorized ordinances and sacraments. Elder Holland shares a verse that he has quoted before, so we’re taking the previous explanation of restored priesthood authority from his talk, “Our Most Distinguishing Feature” [this part of the post was written before finding the transcript of Elder Holland’s Harvard Law School address]
[M]ost people longed for priesthood sanctioned by God and were frustrated as to where they might go to find such. 9 In that spirit the revelatory return of priesthood authority through Joseph Smith should have eased centuries of anguish in those who felt what the famed Charles Wesley had the courage to say. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother John over the latter’s decision to ordain without authority to do so, Charles wrote with a smile:How easily are bishops madeBy man or woman’s whim:Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,But who laid hands on him? 10
In responding to that challenging question, we in the restored Church of Jesus Christ can trace the priesthood line of authority exercised by the newest deacon in the ward, the bishop who presides over him, and the prophet who presides over all of us. That line goes back in an unbroken chain to angelic ministers who came from the Son of God Himself, bearing this incomparable gift from heaven.
He also entertained questions in a Q&A session following his remarks, which allowed him to clarify about our beliefs in the divinity of God and His Son, about the Holy Ghost as part of the Godhead, our views about other faiths (we don’t think we are the only ones who are good Christians or who teach truth or who have had divine connections and private religious experiences throughout history; we do believe that the issue of priesthood authorization for ordinances is an important difference to make clear), and other issues (including an apparent question about women’s issues and respecting the dignity of women).