Achievements of the 20th century

Because of its growth and development in the 20th century, the Church is now "well poised to move into the 21st century, being in a position to fulfill its scriptural and divine destiny."

"What has occurred during the past century," explained Elder Loren C. Dunn, executive director of the Church Historical Department, makes the Church "better able and more capable of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations of the world, better able to administer to the needs of the people and to teach those things that are necessary for our salvation and exaltation."Elder Dunn of the Seventy was asked by the Church News to sum up the Church in the 20th century from a historical perspective.

In terms of growth and development of the Church, Elder Dunn divided the 20th century into three general periods. "I would define the first part of the century," he explained, "as preparatory and the middle part as a period of transition. I would define the last part as moving forward as never before to fulfill the divine mandate."

When the century began, the Church was primarily a western American church. It had drawn thousands of members from areas of Europe, particularly from Great Britain and Scandinavia, as vast numbers had immigrated to Zion. At the beginning of 1900, there were 40 stakes in the Church, all in areas of the West settled by the Saints. As the century began, two other stakes were outside the United States, one in the Mormon colonies in Mexico and the other in the Mormon settlements in Canada.

"At the beginning of the century, the Church was still just a very small, developing organization," said Elder Dunn.

Membership totaled just a little over 270,000.

In fact, the Church in the early years of the 20th century was not a whole lot different than the Church in the latter half of the 19th century.

"We were still establishing ourselves in order to go to all the world," Elder Dunn continued.

The missionary force was extremely small, with just 796 missionaries set apart in 1900, serving in 20 missions scattered across the world from Australia and New Zealand to a handful of countries in Europe. Only seven missions were in the entire United States. The Book of Mormon was translated into just 11 languages, and there were only four temples in operation, all in Utah.

But the great stone that had been cut from the mountain without hands spoken of by Daniel in the Old Testament (please see Daniel 2) was moving, and now, Elder Dunn said, "it has gone forth and is filling the earth. It has made itself felt in the 20th century."

"Today," he continued, "we are a worldwide Church in every sense of the word."

The growth and influence of the Church in the 20th century -- the first full century that the restored gospel has been on the earth -- has been dramatic, Elder Dunn said. "We're seeing a church that truly has come into its own." From those small numbers in 1900, the Church has mushroomed to nearly 11 million members today in more than 2,500 stakes and 333 missions. The Book of Mormon is now translated into 97 languages and printed in 91 languages. Sixty-five temples (as of Nov. 14) are in operation with another 50 under construction or in planning stages. A missionary force of about 60,000 is now serving across the world, and the Church has a presence in more than 160 countries.

But, he said, even though the Church is in the majority of the world's countries, "we're not yet proselyting among the majority of the people of the world."

Elder Dunn said that many factors have contributed to the growth and influence of the Church during the past 100 years. Efforts, particularly during the latter part of the century, have resulted in fulfilling, more than ever before, the promise that the Church would be brought "out of obscurity." (Please see D&C 1:30.)

Certainly as the century began, the Church was an obscure entity to many. But no more.

Technology in the 20th century has played a major role in "our ability to really communicate our message. It has changed the whole landscape as far as the success of the Church is concerned. We have the ability now to speak to the entire world and actually open the doors to the whole world with the kind of technology we now have. We can bring into the homes of a lot of people those things that they are interested in and which touch their hearts."

Continuing, Elder Dunn declared, "Missionary work has exploded." To go from the missionary force the Church had in 1900 to what it is today "is a marvelous work and a wonder."

"Almost everybody in most countries know who the missionaries are. They're an influence for good and are recognized as such. That has got to have a tremendous impact on the world and the lives of people."

The influence and example of faithful and devoted members have also been factors in the growth of the Church, said Elder Dunn.

"To me, one of the great evidences of the power and strength of the truth of the gospel is what comes out of homes when the principles of the gospel are lived for a generation or for a number of years."

He explained that in the 19th century, non-members such as Gen. Alexander Doniphan and Col. Thomas Kane befriended the Church and defended it in influential circles. "We were grateful for that because we really had no one of our religion who actually stood with these people."

But with this century, he continued, have come good Latter-day Saints, both in the United States and internationally, who have risen to the top of their professions in business and industry, or they've been elected to government positions or are prominent in their communities.

"We now have the opportunity to represent ourselves rather than relying on other people to always represent us. As we become established, and as the members of the Church are faithful and true to their covenants and the principles by which we are expected to live as Latter-day Saints, those same principles and characteristics are recognized [by others].

An example of Latter-day Saints excelling today, Elder Dunn said, are athletes in the Olympics. He said that since the beginning of the Olympics in 1896, 93 LDS athletes have participated. Up to 1968, all were from the United States and Canada. "After 1968," he continued, "you begin to get Latter-day Saints in the Olympics from Sweden, Yugoslavia, Australia, Singapore, Italy, Nigeria, Tonga, and the list goes on. We see this worldwide Church beginning to emerge and the influence of Latter-day Saints in every country, by virtue of who they are and what they stand for, is beginning to be felt."

The revelation on the priesthood has also helped open the doors to many nations of the world, Elder Dunn remarked.

Unprecedented publicity in the national and international media, particularly during the sesquicentennial re-enactment of the Mormon pioneer trek two years ago, has contributed greatly in the Church becoming far better known than ever before. Newspapers and magazines worldwide, resulting in more than 1,000 newspaper articles alone, gave extensive coverage to the re-enactment trek, as did many television stations that aired reports or documentaries.

And even calamities that the world has gone through "has helped to influence the growth of the Church because people have begun to identify the Church as a viable alternative for families and for individuals, and for personal worth and the basic principles of integrity and honesty," noted Elder Dunn.

In spite of two world wars, the Church continued to grow during the century. As early as 1939, after one world war and a devastating global depression and just before the second world war, President Heber J. Grant said, "There is no fear on our part of the final triumph of the work of God." Even during the Depression, the Church continued to spread the gospel message. During the Depression came the Church's welfare program that has since been enlarged to include the Church's worldwide humanitarian efforts, which have helped the Church to be more recognized in the world.

The Church's humanitarian efforts, which have gained much publicity in the past several years, is "really an outreach program to the people of the world. It goes well beyond helping Latter-day Saints," remarked Elder Dunn.

"We have begun to minister to places in the world where great needs are being felt." He said that governments and even other religions are beginning to realize that "in a humanitarian and Christian way, we are willing to come in and do things and help people in need."

From all the developments and occurrences of the 20th century, Elder Dunn said, "I would say that maybe the two greatest characteristics that have come out of the century have been the availability of the Book of Mormon to go to the nations of the world and the establishment of Joseph Smith as the true prophet of God. The world is coming to know the Prophet Joseph Smith and to know the great role of the Book of Mormon as a companion to the Bible as it bears witness of the fact that Jesus is the Christ.

"These are the two great things that will take us into the next century and are at the heart of bringing the gospel of the kingdom to the nations of the world.

"Now with this, of course, comes the realization that overarching all is our belief in the divine role of God our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ."

Elder Dunn spoke of two other developments that "have been important" in the 20th century. First, he said, the LDS edition of the scriptures "has allowed us as a Church to get closer to the Lord and to understand the principles of the gospel in ways I don't think has ever happened before."

And second, he continued, "was the great role that Priesthood Correlation played in establishing the family as the center of our religion and establishing the priesthood quorums as a means of servicing the family. Correlation has helped us to understand that the family and the individual are what this Church is about. Correlation helped us to get things in order so the programs of the Church don't get ahead of the individual members and families of the Church. Correlation has allowed us to refocus on spiritual things, rather than on the programs themselves. Or, put another way, Correlation helps us to realize that the programs of the Church are here as a service to the family and the individual, and the family and the individual are not here necessarily to perpetuate the programs.

"Correlation has brought that into balance, and I think that will help us go into the next century."

Elder Dunn explained that one of "the great inspired things" that has come to pass in the 20th century was the organization of the Quorums of the Seventy and the establishment of area presidencies to administer the Church, under the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, throughout the world.

"Having the quorums in place and functioning will allow the Church to continue to grow in the future," Elder Dunn remarked.

During the 20th century, 11 men have served as presidents of the Church, starting with President Lorenzo Snow at the beginning of the century. Elder Dunn was asked to comment on each of the presidents.

President Lorenzo Snow served from 1898 to 1901. "In my mind, his major contribution was, of course, establishing the principle of tithing. He was the person who helped the Church through a very difficult time when it was struggling as far as its financial base was concerned. And not only was it a matter of helping the Church in general, but he was the person who taught the members of the Church that blessings come to a person's life by the payment of tithing."

President Joseph F. Smith served from 1901 to 1918. "[He] was a pre-eminent scholar. Some of the statements that he made and the First Presidency made during his day to establish some of the basic principles of the Church have continued to stand with us and serve as a guideline to us and have blessed our lives."

President Heber J. Grant served from 1918 to 1945. "He is probably best known for his consistency and his steadiness. He taught that if you will consistently live the principles and teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will bless your life in every case. He was a notable spiritual leader but also a practical businessman. He helped the Church become financially viable during his years of service as president. He was well-known among financial leaders in the United States.

President George Albert Smith was president from 1945 to 1951. "I think he would be known for his compassion and love and kindness. He was one of the kindest men I knew. He is remembered for his great humanitarian work at the end of World War II in seeing that commodities were sent to Europe to help people in those war-ravaged countries. And he was a great Scouter and one of the first to help get the Church better known in national and international circles."

President David O. McKay served from 1951 to 1970. "When you think of him you think of his emphasis on the home and his statement that 'no other success can compensate for failure in the home.' He also helped to get us started on a new thrust relative to missionary work when he emphasized 'every member a missionary.' When you think of him you also think of integrity, you think of the importance of education. The impressions he gave to people as he was with them were the desire to live a better life and to be a more dedicated and upstanding person."

President Joseph Fielding Smith was president from 1970 to 1972. "He was, of course, a great theologian and educator. He was very strong in his commitment and a great example to members of the Church in terms of understanding what the principles of the gospel are and then living them without deviating to the left or right. His answers to gospel questions that appeared in print for many years helped to educate a whole generation as to the doctrines of the Church. He was a very compassionate man."

President Harold B. Lee served from 1972 to 1973. "He was a man of great spirituality and keen intellect and he seemed to bring forward the need for developing the talents that our Father in Heaven has presented to all of us, but to keep them in balance with the element of spirituality. There were deep spiritual wells in President Lee. He was one of the major moving forces of Priesthood Correlation in the Church. He gave us all the vision of how Priesthood Correlation should function."

President Spencer W. Kimball was Church president from 1973 to 1985. "He was a great example of encouraging people to do their very best, and the sign on his desk that said 'Do It,' and later 'Do It Now,' was a reflection of him.

"He encouraged members to pray that the doors of countries will be opened and for the gospel to be taken to all the world. His invitation for all worthy young men to serve a mission seemed to open a new era as far as missionary service is concerned. He never tired of doing his Heavenly Father's work or of serving other people. All of us who had a chance to associate with him or see him were uplifted by his humanity and by his Christlike concern for the people around him."

President Ezra Taft Benson served from 1985 to 1994. "He placed considerable emphasis on coming unto Christ by studying the Book of Mormon. He not only taught that the Book of Mormon was the keystone of our religion, but should also be the keystone of our lives. He was a good example of a commitment to the principles and doctrines of truth and righteousness. He was a man who wanted to follow the Savior no matter what the cost, and no matter what the circumstances were. He loved the Lord and was committed to doing the right thing, and he did his best to help people feel good about it."

President Howard W. Hunter served from 1994 to 1995. "He was a gracious man. He had a keen intellect and tremendous insight and, of course, the great contribution as president of the Church he made was the commitment to the temple. And not only to the temple for the sake of doing work for the dead, but of using the temple as a means of building our lives spiritually and allowing the temple recommend to be an indicator of our lives."

President Gordon B. Hinckley has served since March 1995. "I know of no one who has been better prepared for this calling at this time than President Hinckley. He is a man for all seasons and there is no major program of the Church that he hasn't had some involvement in the development of it as the years have gone on.

"He understands this Church and he understands the people in a way that is remarkable and a blessing to the members of the Church. Not only that," Elder Dunn continued, "he has done more to bridge the gap between the Church and the world than probably any other president of the Church that we've had. This has been a blessing to the Church because it has brought greater understanding to who we are and what we stand for in the world than, maybe, any other single thing we've done.

"And I believe this love is also reflected in the concept of the smaller temples that he has been inspired to bring to the Church. He has great compassion for each member of the Church. He has the vision that is taking us into the next century," Elder Dunn com- mented.

Elder Dunn said he believes the 20th century has not only affected the Church, but also Church has affected the 20th century.

"The 20th century, through the revolution of transportation and communication, has provided the means for the Church to go into all the world in ways never possible at the beginning of the century. In this century there has been a level of enlightenment and education and understanding that has come about that has allowed us to grow.

"I think it was President Kimball who said that he was convinced that when the missionaries are permitted to enter into a country the Lord will bless that country over and above what will happen as people become members of the Church.

"When the missionaries are there, it's a blessing. The scriptures refer to it as a 'leaven in the loaf.' Countries are better off when they allow the missionaries to come and for the gospel to be established.

"The 20th century has been a great century," Elder Dunn emphasized, "but it will be nothing like the century yet to come!"

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