Calling Ourselves Saints

The last time leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (yes, that’s a mouthful) decided  we weren’t going to call ourselves Mormons anymore, I obediently stopped using the word Mormon and switched to the term “LDS” until the I’m a Mormon campaign, when I realized that the church style guide had changed again and I went along.

Coincidentally, this time around, just a few weeks before the announcement that we should quit calling ourselves “Mormons” again, and that even “LDS” is out now, I happened to study an article by presiding bishop Gérald Caussé  in which he said, “The definition of the Church might be derived from a passage in the Book of Mormon that states, ‘And they [meaning the Lord’s disciples] who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.’ In other words, the Church is all about people.” (3 Nephi 26:21)

The Bible also uses the term “church” to describe people, not buildings. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.”

That means that we are the church.

Once, when I was doing a television interview about Ordain Women activism, a reporter asked me to respond to  critics who believed we were harming the church.

I surprised myself when I instinctively said, “We are the church.” (KUTV, April 23, 2014)

The church isn’t its buildings, not even its headquarters. It is us. It is our responsibility. Thinking of the church this way helps me to realize the importance of each of us doing our part to make the church reflective of Christ, for whom the church (that’s us) is named. Are we building Zion? Or are we complacent?

When each of my children are baptized, I show them my name badge from my missionary service. It says the word, “Jesucristo” in bold letters. I tell them about how I felt an extra responsibility to reflect Christ’s love and do his work when I wore that badge, because I was literally wearing the name of Christ. However, I remind them, when we are baptized and confirmed as members of the church, we symbolically take upon us at that same name and carry that same responsibility.

Remembering that we are the church also helps me to understand the church’s flaws. With one great exception, people have never been perfect. In this sense, the oft repeated mantra, “The church is perfect but the people aren’t,” is a nonsense phrase. The church cannot be perfect because we are the church and we are not perfect.

We are not saints.

Even putting aside questions of whether the new style guide is practical (it’s not), I feel a great sense of trepidation about the instruction to refer to ourselves as, and expect others to call us, “Latter-day Saints.” I am no saint, and I don’t know any. Even if we sincerely aspire to become saints, can we expect people to call us that when we so obviously haven’t reached that goal?

I don’t know, but regardless, as I have pondered these questions, I have remembered the joy I felt at taking upon myself the name of Christ when I was baptized, and that same joy again when I literally pinned the name of Christ onto my chest as a missionary. It is unlikely that I will ever be worthy of that name. I doubt that I will ever achieve sainthood, but there can be joy in the attempt.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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3 Responses

  1. Emily U says:

    Good things to keep in mind. I especially liked this: ““The church is perfect but the people aren’t,” is a nonsense phrase. The church cannot be perfect because we are the church and we are not perfect.”

  2. Nat Whilk says:

    “Saint: B.3.b: In biblical use, one of God’s chosen people; in the New Testament, one of the elect under the New Covenant; a member of the Christian church; a Christian.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

  3. Rob Osborn says:

    We are saints though. One need not be perfect to be called a saint. All faithful, yet still imperfect members, are called “saints”.
    The issue with “the church” is one of semantics. It all comes down to the context it is used in. Generally it refers to the institution or “organization” that embodies the authority, correct doctrines, governance, of the Lord. This is why Christ often refers to the people who belong to his church such as-
    1 Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together. (D&C 1:1)

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