Definitions matter. What we mean by the term “Zion” matters very much if we are to eventually build one as the Lord requires.
One of the common meanings of the term “Zion” among the Saints is that Zion is the LDS Church. To these members, “building Zion” simply means doing the work of the Church. Unfortunately, Church history doesn’t support this limited view of the term.
Reviewing over 500 quotes by LDS Church leaders during the Utah Territorial years mentioning the building of Zion, only one leader clearly stated that Zion = LDS Church. Elder Orson Pratt in an 1872 sermon states, “The Lord intends, in the last days, to build up a people called Zion, or, in other words, his Church.” Yet, during the rest of that same talk, Elder Pratt also states that Zion is “any Christian denomination that enjoy[s] the spirit of divine revelation”. He also used the term to describe the New Jerusalem, and Old Jerusalem “in the days of David”. Clearly, “Zion” is not limited to a specific religious organization.
Other Church leaders during that period apparently saw Zion as being broader than just the LDS Church. In 1884 President John Taylor said, “In addition to establishing His Church, He has told us to build up a Zion to His name, and we are gathering the materials together for that purpose.” The words “In addition” clearly indicate the LDS religion and Zion are not identical. Later that same year, President Taylor stated, “We are here really to build up and purify the Church of the living God….We are here also to build up a Zion unto our God….” His insertion of the word “also” strengthens this view.
In 1862, when there were about 150 wards in the Church, President Brigham Young made a startling statement that only makes sense IF he saw Zion as being more than the Church’s religious organization:
“Wheresoever this Gospel has been preached and people have received it, the spiritual kingdom is set up and organized, but is Zion organized? No. Is there even in this Territory a fully organized Ward? Not one. It may be asked, ‘Why do you not fully organize the Church?’ Because the people are incapable of being organized.”
Next time we’ll review authoritative statements revealing a side of Zion the reader may not have realized.