In a letter dated Jan. 1, 2000, the First Presidency — then President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust — announced the publication of “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles” and wrote the following:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: ‘The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.’
“In that spirit, we add our witness to that of our predecessors. We encourage you to use this written testimony in helping to build the faith of our Heavenly Father’s children.”
The 20-year-old declaration signed by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was published at the turn of the millennium to commemorate the Savior’s birth two thousand years prior. It testifies of His matchless life and the “infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice.”
President Russell M. Nelson — one of the five living Apostles who signed the document and who has placed great emphasis on the Savior as 17th President of the Church — said in the April 2017 general conference: “As you seek to learn more about Jesus Christ, I urge you to study ‘The Living Christ.’”
By investing time in learning about the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, “we choose to have faith in Him and follow Him,” a key element in drawing His power into one’s life, President Nelson said.
In the 20th-anniversary year of “The Living Christ,” here is a look at how the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have continued to emphasize over the past two decades the Church’s most important doctrine: the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Witnesses of the Savior
Along with the release of “The Living Christ,” the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve prepared the video “Special Witnesses of Christ,” which was broadcast between April 2000 general conference sessions.
The hourlong program features the 15 Church leaders bearing testimony from various locations around the globe of the Savior’s premortal, mortal and postmortal ministries.
As the Brethren stand together during the conclusion of the video in front of the Christus statue on Temple Square, President Hinckley proclaims:
“Unitedly as His Apostles, authorized and commissioned by Him to do so, we bear our witness that He lives and that He will come again to claim His kingdom and rule as King of kings and Lord of lords. Of this we are certain.”
Since then, each newly called Apostle has recorded a “Special Witnesses of Christ” video clip testifying of the Savior.
In an interview with the Church News in April 2000, then-Elder Nelson said “The Living Christ” and “Special Witnesses of Christ” video highlight “the most sacred thing that we can contribute — mainly our testimony that the living Christ is the literal son of God.”
The video and document are resources “for all people of this earth … regardless of race, color or creed.”
Just as words of ancient Apostles, including Peter, James, John and Paul, still testify of Christ today, Elder Nelson said he hopes his words will live long after his death. “We wanted to leave something that would get into the hearts of people and endure, even beyond the life of those testifiers.”
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostle prepared another video in March 2019, this time gathered together in Rome for the Rome Italy Temple dedication. Each shared their testimony of the Savior with excerpts from “The Living Christ.”
President Nelson concludes this video with the declaration’s final lines: “His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”
A companion to ‘The Family Proclamation’
President M. Russell Ballard — Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and another still-living Apostle who signed “The Living Christ” — said in the April 2017 general conference: “We must keep the doctrine and gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of our goals and plans. Without Him, no eternal goal is possible, and our plans to achieve our eternal goals will surely fail.”
President Ballard encouraged Latter-day Saints to study “The Living Christ” and place a copy where they can see it. “Take time to review each of the statements found in this inspired testimony of Christ by His special witnesses who signed it.”
He continued, “I would urge you to study it along with ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World.’ We speak often about the family proclamation, but please remember to read it in light of the saving power of the living Christ. Without the living Christ, our fondest expectations (of eternal families) will be unfulfilled.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a document issued in 1995 outlining the divine purpose of marriage and families.
Aside from President Nelson and President Ballard, the three other living Apostles who signed “The Living Christ” — and endorsed the family proclamation — are President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve.
In 25 years, ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ has gone from the Vatican to the UN and beyond
Two other Church proclamations pass significant milestones this year. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Restoration proclamation commemorating 150 years of the Church’s organization in 1980 and the 175th anniversary of the document on the nature of God issued in 1865.
Such Church proclamations, as well as declarations like “The Living Christ,” are issued “with the intent to bring forth, build up and regulate the affairs of the Church as the kingdom of God on the earth,” wrote Robert J. Matthews in an entry on “proclamations” in the 1992-published “Encyclopedia of Mormonism.”
Elder Robert D. Hales, a late Apostle who signed the “The Living Christ,” warned in the October 2013 general conference that though the Church in recent decades has largely been spared by the misunderstandings and persecutions the early Saints faced, “it will not always be so.”
“We watch, hear, read, study and share the words of prophets to be forewarned and protected,” Elder Hales said. “For example, ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ was given long before we experienced the challenges now facing the family.
“‘The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles’ was prepared in advance of when we will need it most.”
Emphasis on the Savior’s Church
Eight months into President Nelson’s tenure as President of the Church, he issued a statement in August 2018 regarding the name of the Church.
“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he wrote. “We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.”
Focusing on the same topic during the October 2018 general conference, President Nelson said, “I promise you that if we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen.”
Since then, Church leaders and departments, related entities and millions of Latter-day Saints and others have adopted use of the correct name of the Church. The Church’s official style guide has been adjusted, along with its principal website: ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Email addresses, domain names and social media have also been updated, and the Church’s choir is now “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.”
As a continuation of the Church’s effort to place the Savior at the center of His Church, President Nelson introduced a new Church symbol during the April 2020 general conference.
The new symbol — which includes the name of the Church in a cornerstone and a representation of Thorvaldsen’s “Christus” under an arch — “will remind all that this is the Savior’s Church and that all we do as members of His Church centers on Jesus Christ and His gospel,” he said.