Okay, as many of you know, the terminologies employed by both Mormons and orthodox Christians (hereafter “Christians” for brevity’s sake) are identical in form, but often different in meaning. Since getting the word out to our neighbors in the form of missionary work is one of the three essentials to the overall mission of the Mormon church (the other two being perfecting the saints and redeeming the dead), I thought I’d share with you some of the common vocabulary employed by both sides, but at the same time note some of the key differences.
These are all terms phrases that I noticed during my first semester of graduate school at a Protestant educational institution. When appropriate, I will flag terms as distinctly Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or what have you.
I believe that knowing some of these distinctions will create greater meaning between Mormons and Christians. As always, I encourage you to contribute some of the same similarities/differences in vocabulary that you’ve noticed!
1. Sacrament. For Christians, this term is primarily utilized as a catch-all term for what Mormons call “ordinances” (another misnomer I will discuss later). For Catholics, the sacraments are seven in number. I’m not sure why the Mormon Church now utilizes the term “sacrament” as only applicable to the Lord’s Supper, but I imagine that it is now a truncated form of, possibly, “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” Since it may appear somewhat strange to our Christian brethren and sisteren to hear us saying “sacrament meeting,” perhaps we might qualify what we mean by “sacrament” when discussing it in the company of Christians.
2. Melchizedek Priesthood. This is actually a New Testament term from Hebrews 11. For most Christians, only Jesus possesses the Melchizedek Priesthood, and it can be very offensive for them to hear that we claim to possess it on a collective scale.
3. Similarly, terms like “priest,” “teacher,” and “deacon” for most Christians indicate not only some form of formal ordination before a recognized authority, but there is much more semantic weight with each of them. For us, it mostly indicates the age of the young man (and his purported worthiness) as well, e.g., a 17 year old boy would be considered part of his local priest quorum (but not in every case). Likewise, when a Christian hears us say “I’m an ordained Elder in the Mormon Church,” their assumption, in many cases (though not all), will have them believe that the elder in question has been to some form of parochial school or seminary style of training, passed certain exams and met certain requirements, and then defended himself before an ordained board of ministry of some sort. Likewise with terms such as “deacon,” “priest,” etc. Priesthood ordination is big-time for Christians.
5. “The Church.” When our Christian brethren and sisteren say “The Church,” they’re not always talking about their own denomination. Many times they’re referring to all of (orthodox) Christianity. When Mormons utilize the term, it almost exclusively refers only the Mormon Church. This is a handy one to know.
6. Virgin. For Christians, this term represents a woman that has not yet had sexual intercourse with anyone else from this world or any other world (sorry Ezra Benson).
7. Martin Luther. This is not “that one black guy from the 1960s,” but rather the church reformer, which the Lutheran Church now eponymously employs. He’s very important for Protestants, akin to Joseph Smith for a Mormon (although not venerated so often). He was the father of the Reformation, and I believe there’s even praise from our own general authorities for his efforts.