There are many churches in a temporal sense, but only 2 in a spiritual sense.
“Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth” (1 Nephi 14:10).
Membership in the church of God leads to salvation in the celestial kingdom of God.
The members of the church of God
“And now, behold, according to their faith in their prayers will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up. And for this cause have I said: If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them. Now I do not say this to destroy my church [which appears to imply ‘. . . that is already in existence’], but I say this to build up my church; Therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil—yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center. . . . Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them” (D&C 10:52-6, 67-9).
“Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake. And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they [this word is plural, so would refer to people] are built upon my gospel. Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you; And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it” (3 Nephi 27:7-10).
“For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church” (Alma 46:14).
“And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name. . . . And as I have prayed among you even so shall ye pray in my church, among my people who do repent and are baptized in my name” (3 Nephi 18:5, 16).
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church [ekklēsia]; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-8).
The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church of God, which is built on the rock of revelation.
“And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for [because] there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God” (Mosiah 5:22).
“And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon . . . and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God. And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church” (Mosiah 18:16-7).
“And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ” (Moroni 6:4).
“And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually— For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:30-1, given in 1831).
In the diagram above, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a temporal church) who are spiritually in the portion that overlaps with the church of God are in the only true and living church.
Righteousness trumps affiliation
“And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God” (Helaman 3:33).
“And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received— Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written— That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion” (D&C 84:54-8, given in 1832).
In the diagram above, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are spiritually in the portion that overlaps with the church of the devil are under condemnation.
“Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed; But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world” (D&C 50:7-8).
Detecting and cutting off hypocrites after physical death would seem outside the stewardship of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I have not heard of disciplinary councils being conducted vicariously for the dead).
“Now, the Lord wants the wheat and tares to grow together; for Zion must be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness” (Joseph Smith, HC 2:228).
“Now we learn by this parable [Matthew 13:24-30], not only the setting up of the Kingdom in the days of the Savior, which is represented by the good seed, which produced fruit, but also the corruptions of the Church, which are represented by the tares, which were sown by the enemy, which His disciples would fain have plucked up, or cleansed the Church of, if their views had been favored by the Savior. But He, knowing all things, says, Not so. As much as to say, your views are not correct, the Church is in its infancy, and if you take this rash step, you will destroy the wheat, or the Church, with the tares; therefore it is better to let them grow together until the harvest, or the end of the world, which means the destruction of the wicked, which is not yet fulfilled, as we shall show hereafter, in the Savior’s explanation of the parable, which is so plain that there is no room left for dubiety upon the mind” (Joseph Smith, HC 2:267).
“I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:9).
There are righteous people throughout the world who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:49-50).
“And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Corinthians 12:6).
However, there are some benefits to having membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
- A large, organized group of people can provide large-scale service to others. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth” (Luke 11:17; see also Matthew 12:25).
- Apostles and prophets. “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28).
- The priesthood, through which ordinances may be performed and people may be blessed.
- Temple marriage, and the doctrine that it is possible to be married for “eternity.”