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Like other Christian faiths, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes seriously what many call the New Testament’s “great commission” to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. In connection with this, when the opportunity arises to share their beliefs with others on a larger scale, Mormons usually welcome it.
So in 1842, when Boston lawyer George Barstow asked his friend John Wentworth, owner and editor of the weekly Chicago Democrat, to write to Joseph Smith requesting a summary of Mormon doctrines and history, Joseph obliged. His simple request in return was that his letter be published “entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.”
Barstow sought information about the Mormons for possible inclusion in a book about the history of New Hampshire. He ultimately made 1819 the closing date of his study, and because the Mormons did not organize as a church until 1830, they did not have a place in his volume. The letter was also not published in the Chicago Democrat but appeared instead as “Church History” in the Church’s newspaper Times and Seasons, 175 years ago today.
The document, well-known today as the Wentworth Letter, sketches “the rise, progress, persecution, and faith” of the Latter-day Saints. The letter concluded with a 13-point summary of Mormon doctrine, including timeless teachings about belief in God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, personal responsibility, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, spiritual gifts, religious freedom, the pursuit of all good things and much more.
Late Mormon apostle Elder L. Tom Perry (1922–2015) said these 13 statements — now known as the Articles of Faith — teach “the essential doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ” and are “among the most important and certainly the most concise statements of doctrine in the Church.”
Although well-known today and even memorized by many Mormons around the world because of their fundamental teachings and brevity, the Articles of Faith weren’t officially adopted into the Mormon canon until the late 19th century. In 1851, the Articles of Faith were included in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price, published in the Church’s British Mission. They became official Church doctrine after the Pearl of Great Price was revised in 1878 and canonized at the Church’s October 1880 general conference.