“Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints” (Psalm 149:1). This verse is a reminder that those who covenanted with God both in Old Testament and New Testament times were called “saints.” The LDS Topical Guide entry for “Saints” lists several other interesting scriptures. For example, in Romans 1:7, Paul speaks to the Christians in Rome – to all of them, not just a few outstanding examples – and notes that they are called to be saints: “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints. . . .” Likewise in Ephesians 1:1, Paul states that he is writing “to the saints which are at Ephesus,” and in 1 Corinthians 1:2, speaks to “the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. . . .” Those who join the Church of Jesus Christ were said to be “no more strangers . . . but fellowcitizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:19). And as we read in Ephesians 4:11-12, one of the reasons for the existence of the Church, with its organization that included apostles and prophets, was “for the perfecting of the saints” – the imperfect members of the Church who needed the blessings of divinely authorized guidance from leaders called of God.
Many people assume that we call ourselves Latter-day Saints because we think we’re holier than everybody else. Not so. The term “saint” is what the Lord calls members of His Church. It reminds us that we are called to live His laws, but we are utterly imperfect and have no monopoly on righteousness.
The term “saints” in our name is just one little part of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, bringing back some of the ancient ways that the Lord has seen fit to apply in for our day as well.
I suppose that if Joseph Smith were just making everything up by absorbing elements in his environment, he may not have used the terms “saints” as he did. In the modern mainstream Christian world, it has generally taken on a different meaning, referring to rare individuals rather than the members of the Church in general. Indeed, the entry for “saint” in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary gives definitions that do not suggest Joseph Smith’s usage:
SAINT, n. [L. sanctus.]
1. A person sanctified; a holy or godly person; one eminent for piety and virtue. It is particularly applied to the apostles and other holy persons mentioned in Scripture. A hypocrite may imitate a saint. Ps. 16.
2. One of the blessed in heaven. Rev. 18.
3. The holy angels are called saint. Deut. 33. Jude 14.
4. One canonized by the church of Rome.
I truly believe that there has been a divine restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, and to me it only makes sense that this tiny little aspect of the original Church would be one of the many components that were restored. I say this not as any kind of serious evidence for the Restoration (turn to the Book of Mormon for that!), but by way of sharing some thoughts about that puzzling term in the name of our church.