|Continuity of the Church ....||Bob Moore|
The Restoration is predicated on the belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet -- divinely called and commissioned to reveal God's word. He translated the Book of Mormon and produced revelations, many of which are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, so that latter-day saints could enjoy the same spiritual guidance available to former-day saints. His mission was to restore the church of Jesus Christ, which had fled into the wilderness a few centuries after the earthly ministry of the Savior. In this way the same heavenly powers that attended the apostles personally appointed by Christ accompanied latter-day apostles divinely commissioned to gather the elect. Their duties included preaching the fullness of the gospel by which the penitent are attracted, immersing the obedient in the waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and granting the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands. As a result, the spiritual blessings that graced the early Christian Church once again edified the saints who heard and obeyed.
Under Joseph's leadership the church grew from six members at its inception to approximately 200,000 in fourteen short years. Such rapid growth, unfortunately, allowed false teachings and wicked practices to infiltrate the household of faith. God warned that hypocrites had entered the church and, if unrepentant, would be both detected and cut off (D&C 50:3a-b). Shortly thereafter, he revealed that their adulteress desires would be manifest to the eyes of the entire world (D&C 63:4b-c). These prophecies were fulfilled after the murder of Joseph and Hyrum when many saints openly embraced polygamy. Those migrating to Utah so successfully wove the nefarious practice into the fabric of the latter-day message that the depravity of polygamy is still invoked by the word Mormon.
The flight to lasciviousness that polygamy revealed was only one evidence of the confusion and disorder into which the church fell. Self-appointed leaders, some ambitious and others naive, vied for control of the headless church, dividing the body into over twenty factions. Some presented themselves as caretakers until the rightful heir took his office. Others claimed to be the true successor. In the latter case, each would-be president offered some divine validation for his usurpation. Supporters followed each claimant until Nauvoo, once a city of over 20,000 was left empty and desolate. The church's fragmentation dispersed its factions to such diverse places as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Minnesota, and Utah. The rest of the saints were left confused. Without stalwart shepherds to guide or protect them, they scattered throughout the United States and the world at large.
The fragmentation of the church bespeaks its disorganization. Each of the three leading quorums fell into some kind of disorder. The First Presidency was dissolved at the death of Joseph. Joseph Smith, of course, was the President of the church. Hyrum Smith was one of his counselors. Sidney Rigdon, the only remaining member of the First Presidency, requested to serve as its guardian during young Joseph's minority, but that request was rejected in the Nauvoo Stake Conference of August 1844.(1) Brigham Young argued that since the Quorum of Twelve is equal in authority with the First Presidency (D&C 104:11), it is responsible for church leadership when the presidency is broken by the death of the prophet. Joseph III agreed that the Twelve initially had the right to govern the church after Joseph's assassination.(2) However, the apostles quickly divided over leadership of the church. William Smith was silenced and excommunicated for teaching that the Presidency belongs to the male descendants of Joseph Smith. Later, he formed his own church. Lyman White left and led a group to Texas. John Page resigned his position and affiliated with James Strang and finally Granville Hedrick. Afterwards, a portion of the Twelve elevated Brigham Young to the presidency, but in direct contradiction of the law. By making the president of the Twelve the president of the church and two other apostles his counselors, they reordered the Twelve, essentially disorganizing the two leading quorums as they were originally established and creating a single council. Joseph III said that this act disorganized the Quorum of Twelve.(3) He reasoned that the quorum, already reduced by the resignation of three members, was further reduced when three more were elevated to the First Presidency. This left the Twelve with only six members -- an insufficient number to legally act. Meanwhile, the Seventy changed the order of their quorums when they ordained more men to that office than the law allows. Approximately twenty quorums of Seventy, not seven as the scripture mandates (D&C 104:43a-b), functioned in Nauvoo.
The disorganization of the church caused by the disorder into
which the three leading quorums fell was avoidable. In 1841, well before these
deviations, God commanded the saints to build a temple at Nauvoo, adding that if
they did not finish it within the allotted time, he would reject them and the
church. (D&C 107:10f-11a). The Nauvoo Temple was never finished and the
uncompleted structure was destroyed by a storm after the saints abandoned
Nauvoo. The seemingly divine destruction of the Nauvoo Temple shows God's
rejection of that unfinished edifice. Similarly, the disorder into which the
leading quorums fell testifies that God rejected the church as well.
The disorganization of the church did not destroy it. It remained alive in faithful branches that continued to observe the gospel as originally restored. A branch of the church is its smallest legal entity. It is the church, particularly within the locality that it serves, and its members have the right and responsibility to govern that unit. Those branches that continued to function according to the divine pattern remained local representatives of the original church. The disorder of the leading quorums only disorganized the general church, not its individual branches. Although the scattered saints had no inherent right or power to reorganize the general church, they certainly maintained the right to preach the gospel, shepherd the members, and regulate the affairs of their respective branches.
The responsibility to organize a branch is a specific duty of an apostle (D&C 122:1). However, in the absence of a member of the leading quorums, an elder may organize a branch. When the leading quorums fell into disorder and deserted many saints, their abandonment did not remove the means to gather the scattered saints into new branches. Faithful elders retained that power and could lawfully form new branches. This means that any branch, whether formed before the church became disorganized or properly established by an elder during that dark and cloudy day, was a legal entity of the church. The Reorganization underscored this principle when, at its first conference, it adopted the following resolution: "Resolved, that we believe that the Church of Christ, organized on the sixth day of April, A.D., 1830 exists as on that day wherever six or more saints are organized according to the pattern in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants."(4)
Branches govern themselves during branch business meetings. Their decisions form the law of the church for their respective jurisdictions as long as those decisions are in harmony with the general church. When the general church is organized, branches have little, if any, need to either consider universal or corporate matters or hold joint conferences with other branches outside general church administration. However, the disorganization of the church following the death of the Martyr increased the need for those saints who did not follow the various factions to meet in properly formed branches. Their structure provided the only legal organization under which the saints could gather and their business meetings furnished the only means for them to regulate church affairs. Sometimes necessity required them to make decisions normally reserved for general conferences.
The branches at Beloit, Waukesha, and Yellowstone were legal entities of the original church. Beloit was organized by Jason Briggs in 1843. He also organized the branch at Waukesha in either 1842 or 1843. Zenos Gurley, Sr, and Hiram Brown organized the branch at Yellowstone as a branch of Strang's church(5) sometime after the death of Joseph Smith. The business meetings of each of these branches were legal legislative sessions of the original church during the time that it was disorganized. What made those branches special to the continuation of the church is that they held joint conferences. Because of their unification, church members left behind after the dispersion of the factions could not only meet in properly formed branches, but they could unite with the branches of Beloit, Waukesha and Yellowstone in general conference. Their joint conferences formed the foundation for a new organization of the scattered saints.
Some claimed the right of presidency. James Strang maintained that Joseph Smith sent him a letter in which he was appointed the successor. Brigham Young asserted that the Twelve had lawfully installed him to that position. The Reorganization denounced all such claims. Church law specified that the president of the church must first be called by revelation and then approved for ordination by the vote of the church (D&C 99:6a). The Reorganization also adopted the following resolution: "No person can legally lay claim to the office of First President of the Church without a previous ordination to the Presidency of the High Priesthood."(6) No aspirant to the presidency who led a faction of the original church met all these requirements. Each would-be sucessor formed a separate church and place himself at its head contrary to the laws of succession.
Others raised a different standard to attract church members. Although they denounced any right to the high priesthood's presidency, they erected a false ensign that led their followers away from the Reorganization, at least at first. Alpheus Cutler believed he was one of seven presidents who held the keys of the kingdom. His group dedicated itself to preserve those keys. Charles Thompson believed that there would be no more organization of the church until after the redemption of Zion. He advised the saints to prepare for Zion's establishment and led his followers to a colony in Iowa called "Preparation." Many of these types of groups so tightly tied their members to their position that some rejected the Reorganization when it invited them to return to the church. Many of the churches created by these self-appointed claimants exist in some form today. Every organization of saints other than properly formed branches and their joint conferences was an illegal establishment and proved to be a hindrance to those saints attached to it.
Branch conferences had no right to authorize the ordination of men to the offices of high priest, bishop, patriarch, seventy, or apostle. Ordinations to these offices are authorized at a conference of the entire church. Revelation specifies, "Every president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder), bishop, high councilor, and high priest, is to be ordained by the direction of a high council, or General Conference" (D&C 17:17). Any faction that ordained men to any one of these offices without a general conference did so illegally. Some churches formed by the factions may have authorized ordinations to these offices by conference action, but the ordinands received their commissions in another church. The Reorganization rejected ordinations to any office of the Melchesidec Priesthood other than to the office of elder that were made during that dark and cloudy day. Its position was that their ordinations "never either took from or added to"(7) the authority they received in the original church.
The Reorganization authorized the ordination of men to offices in the higher quorums of the church, but only after participating branches reorganized the church. The Reorganization was not created by the leading quorums of the church, for they were disorganized. Neither was it formed by other kinds of assemblies who had no inherent right to conduct business. Instead, it was created by properly formed branches whose joint conference provided the only legal legislative activity for the church. Even so, for their joint conference to be a general conference of the church, either every properly formed branch had to have opportunity to participate, or God had to command it. In that day, imprecise information and slow communication made a conference of all properly formed branches impossible. The reason that the joint conference of the branches at Beloit, Waukesha, and Yellowstone could reorganize the church is that its session fulfilled a divine command. God told them to reorganize the church. Zenos Gurley explained, "Shortly after this communication was given, it was intimated by the Spirit that we must organize."(8) Branches in whom the legal right to be the church within their jurisdictions united to reorganize the church before they authorized the ordination of men to offices in the leading quorums of the church. The revelation instructing the Reorganization to ordain apostles came after the reorganization of the church. This means that the conference that authorized the ordination of apostles was a general conference of the entire church and, as such, was vested with the authority to regulate its affairs.
The Reorganization was not a new church. The branches that
participated in the conference that formed it were legal branches of the
original church. Since no greater organization of the church existed at that
time, their conference was a conference of the original church. All they did was
create a new organization of the church, ending the disorganization that kept
the saints scattered. The fact that the Reorganization was the original church
is underscored by its use of the name of the church. It did not create a new
name. At the time of Martyr's death, the name of the church was the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Reorganization continued to use that
name, even after Joseph III became its president. The word Reorganized
was not placed at the beginning of its name until the United States' government
forced that addition in 1867.
The sequence of revelations is particularly important for a complete analysis of the Reorganization. Possibly the first revelation given to the saints at large after the murder of Joseph Smith came through William Smith. He succeeded Hyrum as Church Patriarch and, according to the scriptures (D&C 107:29d), could function as a prophet. The document William presented authorized him to organize the church and serve as its head until young Joseph became its president. It said, in part, "I said unto my servant Joseph [Smith] that this blessing should remain upon the head of his posterity, and be handed down through the lineage of his father's house according to the flesh; therefore the true church continueth with this priesthood -- that same priesthood with which thou art invested and to which thou hast been ordained by my servant Joseph, thy brother; . . . and thou shalt be the prophet, seer, revelator, and translator unto my church during the minority of him whom I have appointed from the loins of Joseph thy brother; go on, therefore, and organize and set in order all the branches, for I have given thee full power and authority."(9)
William fell into transgression and the hope that faithful saints could find stable fellowship under his leadership failed. In November 1851, God told Jason Briggs that he had rejected William Smith. The Lord said, "As Esau despised his birth right, so has William Smith despised my law, and forfeited that which pertained to him as an apostle and high priest in my church."(10) He also told Jason that a descendant of Joseph would still come to lead the church. Not only did many saints know that the Palmyra prophet had designated young Joseph to succeed him in the presidency, but some of the initial participants in the Reorganization, such as Edmond Briggs and Zenos Gurley, received divine manifestations promising its occurrence. Time has validated the revelation given to Jason. William Smith died without honor as the prophecy predicted and his church disbanded. Joseph III came to the scattered church and gathered the saints. The same revelation instructed Jason to communicate its contents to the "saints at Palestine, and at Voree, and at Waukesha, and to all places where this doctrine is taught as my law."(11) That communication precipitated joint conferences between the named branches. This means that the divine commandment to reorganize the church came after the revelation that Joseph III would attain the presidency.
The order in which revelations came to the saints gives the following sequence: The successor is revealed; the rightful heirs have opportunity to lead the church until divinely rejected; when rejected, faithful branches are reassured that the appointed successor will come to them; faithful branches are invited to rally around the promise of the previously appointed successor's coming; faithful branches are commanded to organize; a conference of faithful branches is commanded to ordain men to offices in the leading quorums of the church; and the appointed successor comes to the general church for his ordination. The reorganization of the church, therefore, is founded on the divine revelation of the prophet's successor and consummated in his ordination.
Young Joseph finally accepted the presidency and presided over the same church that his father restored. Under his guidance, the quorums were reordered, the saints were re-gathered, and the gospel, attended with the same spiritual manifestations, preached again. Although persecutors drove the saints from the land of Zion in 1833 and the governor banned them from the state in 1838, Joseph moved church headquarters to Independence in 1906. The return of the saints under the banner of the Reorganized Church provides irrefutable evidence of its divinity, thereby confirming that its the continuation of the original church. In 1833, God promised the beleaguered saints that despite their scattering, he would return the faithful and their children to the land of Zion. He said, "Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered, they that remain and are pure in heart shall return and come to their inheritances; they and their children, with songs of everlasting joy; to build up the waste places of Zion" (D&C 98:4g). Joseph III and his brother Alexander, leaders of the Reorganized Church, were two of the many who fled Missouri into Illinois. They and their children returned to Independence. Their children also led the Reorganization for the next half-century. This shows that Joseph and Alexander were, in part, the children of promise.
When Joseph III came to the Reorganization, he provided
prophetic guidance. The disorganization of the original church allowed false
doctrines to flourish. Some teachings present before the disorganization were
errant. Others attached themselves to the Restoration message after the
disorganization. Which doctrines were incorrect and how to correct them were
unresolvable issues. They needed prophetic direction that could only come
through the prophet. Joseph III's ordination provided the means to correct those
falsehoods. The Reorganization openly denounced polygamy, blood atonement, and
the Adam-God doctrine. It preferred the Doctrine and Covenants to the Book of
Commandments. It published the Inspired Version, but ignored the Book of
Abraham. It neglected organizing the Council of Fifty. Baptism for the dead was
considered a local ordinance that should not be practiced until new revelation
required it. This is because the church along with its dead was rejected at
Nauvoo. Meanwhile, the legislative process and the function of the quorums were
harmonized. As a result, the restored gospel was reaffirmed and the church
steadied. Under the direction of the Lord's prophet, the Restoration, cleansed
from the falsehood that overtook it, flourished in the Reorganization.
How the church continued after it fell into disorder is revealed in the history of the Restoration, especially the time between the disorganization and reorganization of the church. From that record, several salient conclusions about the church's continuity can be derived. The following are some of them.
1. The properly formed branch is the smallest legal entity of the church. It is capable of carrying on the affairs of the church even if the general church falls into disorder and its leading quorums are disorganized. The church can be regenerated from one properly formed branch.
2. An elder has authority to organize a branch where none exist to minister to the saints. In the event that there are no other members of the church, an elder can preach the gospel, baptize the repentant, and, when at least six members are confirmed, organize them into a branch. This means that even if the church is reduced to one faithful elder, it can both survive in the branch he subsequently raises up and regenerate the church. Joseph III agreed when he said that, during the disorganization, the church "was with the remnant scattered abroad, who remained true to the principles first given as the gospel of Christ; and with any body of such remnant, numbering six or more, under the pastoral charge of an elder, priest, teacher, or deacon."(12)
3. Properly formed branches carry on the affairs of the church in their respective jurisdictions through branch business meetings. They may meet even when the general church is disorganized. Several branches may meet in joint conferences to conduct business for commonly held purposes.
4. A general conference is a joint conference of all the branches of the church. It cannot take place unless all the properly formed branches are invited to attend. When identifying or inviting all properly formed branches is impossible, God can command some group of branches to hold a general conference.
5. No person may lawfully be ordained to the presidency of the church, neither can men be ordained to the offices of apostle, seventy, high priest, bishop, or patriarch without a revelation of their respective calling and the approval of a general conference.
6. Properly formed branches are branches of the original church. Their individual or joint conferences are conferences of that church. They demonstrate that they are the continuation of the original church by identifying themselves with its name.
7. Any organization of the saints other than the joint efforts of properly formed branches is an illegal organization. It is not the continuation of the church but a separate, perhaps competing, possibly compatible, organization.
8. The presidency belongs to the rightful heirs of Joseph Smith, Jr. The first conference of the Reorganization affirmed, "That the successor of Joseph Smith, Junior, as the Presiding High Priest in the Melchisedec Priesthood must of necessity be the seed of Joseph Smith, Junior, in fulfillment of the law and promises of God."(13) Those saints who separated themselves from that leadership separated themselves from the church. Any person not descended from Joseph Smith who claims the presidency and organizes a following establishes another church.
9. The sequence of events leading to the reordering of the quorums began with the revelation of the true successor to the presidency. It was followed by an invitation for the saints to rally around that standard. Afterwards, a divine command to organize the severed branches and finally a revelation on how to reconstitute the leading quorums followed.
10. A descendant of Joseph Smith will preside over the church
when it completes the purpose of the Restoration. Latter-day revelation not only
specifies that the presidency "was confirmed to be handed down from father
to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to
whom the promises were made" (D&C 104:18), but it promises that the
presidency will remain through Joseph's lineage "until the restoration of
all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world
began" (D&C 84:3b). When the prophet invites all properly formed
branches to his leadership, he will correct all the falsehoods that have woven
themselves into the fabric of church teachings.
The Present Situation
In recent years the Reorganization has revised its procedures, teachings, and ordinances. The intention to make these changes was announced in the Statement On Objectives For The Church presented to the 1966 World Conference by the Presidency and Twelve. Its fifth point is entitled, "Interpret the Zionic concept for our day in world terms and aggressively pursue the implementation of Zionic development."(14) The first deviation from the traditional and scriptural pattern, however, happened several years before when Roy Cheville was ordained to the office of Presiding Patriarch. He was the first person, not a descendent of Joseph Smith Sr, the church's first Patriarch, to hold that office. Joseph Lambert served in that capacity after the death of Alexander Smith, the Reorganization's first Presiding Patriarch, but his title was Acting Presiding Patriarch. Since the Reorganization had ordained several patriarchs, one of them needed to preside over the order until a new Presiding Patriarch was called and ordained. A second change occurred in 1960 when the World Conference liberalized the church's position on divorce. That resolution allowed remarriage in the case of "irreconcilable differences." It also legislated the Standing High Council's 1958 ruling on the subject.
Greater and more drastic changes occurred in the church after the joint report by the Presidency and Twelve announced a policy of revision and reinterpretation. A new curriculum was unveiled in 1968. Six years later, the Standing High Council allowed women to obtain an abortion for medical reasons. In 1976, the church created a new office called "President Emeritus." Wallace B. Smith was ordained to the office of President of the High Priesthood while his father W. Wallace Smith assumed the new title. This is the first time that the successor to the presidency took office during the lifetime of the predecessor. In 1982, the Standing High Council modified its position on homosexuality. That same year, the World Conference revised the Rules of Order. One difference is the removal of all masculine references to God. The most divisive alteration came in 1984 when ordination of women was approved. Open Communion was officially accepted in 1996. In 1998, Wallace Smith resigned his position and appointed a successor who is not a descendant of Joseph, the Martyr. Recently, openly confessed homosexuals have been ordained to priesthood offices.
Some saints hailed these changes as advancements designed to keep the church viable in an evolving culture. Others decried them as departures from the pure and pristine tradition of the church, not only as restored by the Palmyra Seer, but as established by Jesus when he was personally on earth. Each alteration widened the separation between the two viewpoints and the individuals advocating them. The growing division fragmented the church after the ordination of women. Those protesting it found themselves disciplined by church leaders. An unusual number of priesthood were silenced. Some branches were closed -- their doors chained shut or its locks changed. Many felt strangers in their own congregations. A few were even asked by their priesthood to stop attending. Those saints separated from the church felt betrayed and exiled, scattered by their own pastors (Jer 23:1-2), who refused to bind up that which was broken, bring again that which was driven away, or seek that which was lost (Ez 34:4).
Separated saints gathered in new branches when possible. The
first independent branch was organized by saints disciplined for their
participation in Restoration Festivals. That model provided an example for the
many who were alienated by the ordination of women. Some branches became
independent when they were locked out from their buildings, but most were formed
by elders who gathered up exiled saints. Meanwhile, various leaders emerged who,
after claiming divine authority, organized a church around themselves. Some said
that they were the one "mighty and strong." Others pretended to have
the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. Some claimed the right to the
presidency. Apostles, prophets, and seventy were ordained by a few new churches.
The majority of separated saints continued to meet in independent branches, but
their independence still keeps them from uniting as a confederated body.
The situation now facing the church and its members parallels many aspects of the dark and cloudy day after the death of the Martyr. In both cases, members divided into various fellowships, claimants to the presidency arose, and elders organized independent branches for some of the scattered saints. Likewise, the lawful leadership interjected new teachings into the church, which tenets are either contrary to tradition, scripture, or both. The similarities between today and the Nauvoo apostasy has led some to conclude that a reorganization of the church is not only necessary for the continuation of the work, but consistent with the pattern developed at Beloit.
The position of the Reorganization (see conclusion #2, pages 12-13 ) is that an elder has authority to organize a branch where none exists to minister to the saints. Those saints scattered by church leadership both before, but especially after 1984, were without places to worship. Many felt unwelcomed in the congregations that they once attended. Their pastors or other World Church representatives did not seek most of them. Faithful elders not only have the right, but the responsibility, to gather up and provide ministry for those exiled saints. The branches formed by elders to minister to the scattered saints, although outside the jurisdiction of World Church administration, are legitimate branches of the church. Just like the branch at Yellowstone, the original name of the Zarahemla Branch, although formed separate from church leadership at Nauvoo, was a rightful branch of the original church, independent branches formed according to the pattern are legitimate branches of the Reorganization.
Some independent branches were once official branches of the Reorganized Church. They were exiled in the dispute and forced to worship elsewhere. While they formed into independent branches, many remained the same branch in membership and officers. They are like the branches at Beloit, Waukesha, Brush Creek, and Jeffersonville who after the disorganization of 1844 continued to function. The Reorganization considered those early branches lawful branches of the church and welcomed them into its fellowship whenever those branches chose to unite. While Beloit initiated the Reorganization, Brush Creek joined it in 1864. Like them, branches recently exiled by World Church leaders remain legitimate branches and, like their more newly organized counterparts are legal branches of the church.
Independent branches, if properly formed, are legitimate branches of the Reorganized Church. They do not constitute a new church, but the continuation of the old one in an exiled status. The Reorganization (see #6, page 13) maintains that it is the continuation of the original church. Likewise, the independent branches, although unauthorized by it, are branches of the Reorganized Church. Just like the elders during the early days of the Reorganization formed branches of the original church, although they were independent of its administrators and repulsed by its new doctrines and practices, elders today form independent branches of the Reorganized Church. Some, who are repulsed by the changes recently embraced by the World Church, want no part with the Reorganization. They consider the independent branches to be branches of the "true church," but not branches of the Reorganized Church. However, the Reorganized Church is the source from which the priesthood authority empowering the elders to organize independent branches sprang. Those elders only have authority to form branches of the Reorganized Church. They may rightfully claim that their priesthood authority originated in the original church, but the legal and spiritual successor to the original church is the Reorganized Church. It is the continuation of the true church. Every legitimate branch of the original church joined the Reorganization. Branches of the "true church" became branches of the Reorganized Church. For this reason, independent branches, in order to be branches of the original, or "true," church must be branches of the Reorganized Church.
Like the days after Joseph's death, various claimants to the presidency have arisen. None of them are descendants of the Martyr. They have no right to the presidency. The position of the Reorganization (see #8, pages 13-14) is that the presidency must remain with Joseph's seed. Those individuals who claim the presidency, even if they are honorable, are usurpers. The organization that each has formed is a new church. It may teach the restored gospel and contain the scripturally specified officers, but it is not the continuation of either the Reorganization or the original church. The original church became the Reorganization. It is not possible for a body to be the continuation of the original church without being the continuation of the Reorganized Church.
Some groups have ordained apostles, seventies, high priests, bishops, or patriarchs. These acts are contrary to church tradition and law. Such ordinations can only be authorized by a general conference (see # 5, page 13). Even if it is lawful, no general conference of independent branches has occurred. To date, all ordinations by groups of exiled saints to those offices are invalid. Some ordinations to these offices were authorized by conferences of a church that claims to be the Restoration's successor. These churches are new churches and the ordinations that they perform authorized men in a church distinct and separate from the Reorganization. They neither add to nor take away the authority these men have held in the Reorganized Church.
Other groups have formed around a council or a concept. These are not churches. Neither are they lawful forms in which church business can be conducted (see #7, page 13). Their activities may or may not benefit the saints. They certainly are permissible as efforts to unify the saints or meet specific needs, but they are not the forum by which the church can be regulated or, if in the case of disorganization among the leading quorums, reorganized.
Only properly formed branches have the right to govern the
church or a portion thereof. The independent branches have the right to carry on
the affairs of the church within their respective jurisdictions. The pattern set
by the Reorganization (see #3, page 13) specifies that properly formed branches
conduct church business even if the leading quorums fall into disorder. The
right of branches to carry on the affairs of the church allows them to meet in
joint conferences with other branches to discuss gospel topics and regulate
common interests. Like the early Reorganization, they can send out missionaries,
help organize other branches, publish pamphlets, and otherwise steady the saints
in the latter-day message.
While the Reorganization's present situation is similar to the Restoration's circumstances from 1844 to 1852, significant differences exist as well. The original church saw its leading quorums fall into disorder. The First Presidency dissolved, the Twelve expanded the duties of their quorum, and the Seventy organized more quorums than the law allows. On the other hand, no disorder of the leading quorums accompanied the recent theological shift in the Reorganized Church. Each quorum, so far, has remained intact and functioning. If women may not hold divinely authorized priesthood, as independent branches believe, then the recent ordination of women as both apostles and seventy has introduced an element of disorder into those quorums. Those women who hold the title of apostle or seventy are not really members of their respective quorums. Their presence, however, only diminishes the number of members in each quorum. The Twelve has successfully functioned in the past without being filled. The Seventy have never functioned in the Reorganization with filled quorums. As long as unauthorized members remain in a minority, the quorums can still function. Neither is in disorder, yet.
Another possible disorder is the ordination of Grant McMurray as president of the church. He is not a descendant of Joseph Smith. His ordination, therefore, is a departure from both scriptural precepts and church tradition. A similar disorder occurred in 1958 when Roy Cheville was ordained as Presiding Patriarch. Latter-day revelation specifies that the Presiding Patriarch be a descendant of the original officer holder (D&C 107:29b; D&C 130:3b). That change did not disorganize the church. A person does not have to qualify for the office in order to function in it. Joseph Lambert almost a century before, functioned as Presiding Patriarch. He, like Roy Cheville, was not a descendant of the church's first patriarch. Brother Lambert's title was Acting Presiding Patriarch. Roy Cheville, and those following him in office, functioned as Acting Presiding Patriarch, despite their titles. A similar condition occurred in the presidency. Before Joseph III took his office, Jason Briggs functioned as Acting President of the Reorganization. This means that Grant McMurray may function as Acting President without disorganizing the church. While the Reorganization may be treading dangerously close to the same disorder into which the Brighamite faction fell, it has not yet reordered the leading quorums.
A second difference between the past and present is the active participation of Wallace B. Smith in the Reorganized Church. Joseph Smith died before the leading quorums of the original church fell into disorder. The successor whom he appointed was not of age and, as a result, was unable to lawfully assume his post until well after the church disorganized. Wallace Smith, on the other hand, a legitimate and properly ordained heir, holds the office of President of the High Priesthood and remains active in the church. He supervised many of the recent changes introduced into the church. Although he has abandoned his post, he remains responsible for it.
The responsibility that Wallace B. Smith still has to the church is two fold. Should the church fall into disorder, the task of reordering it falls on him. Joseph III said, "If the priesthood was disorganized, did not paramount right remain with someone holding the highest authority, upon whom the duty rested, to 'set the house of God in order,' to ordain men to the higher offices in the priesthood and organize the quorums; and to whom the prerogative to ordain all others belonged; and without whose sanction nothing could legally be done to build up the kingdom of God upon the earth."(15) Wallace Smith holds the office of President of the High Priesthood. It is the highest office in the church. If the present course eventually disorganizes the quorums, then, if still alive, he will be the person upon whom the responsibility to reorder the church will fall. Without his sanction, as Joseph III indicated, nothing can be done to build up the kingdom of God on earth. Unless he is divinely rejected, Wallace Smith remains responsible for setting the church in order.
Some may suppose -- certainly a few have suggested -- that Wallace Smith has transgressed. That transgression, they believe, has separated him from the priesthood authority he once held. Even if true, lone accusations such as this are outside the law. James admonished, "He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law" (Jam 4:11). This is because the law requires the saints to lay their accusations before church elders. Latter-day revelation specifies, "If thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess, thou shalt be reconciled. And if he or she confess not, thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders" (D&C 42:23a-b). Those offended by Brother Smith's actions should, after privately seeking reconciliation, lay the matter before the church. The appropriate court for trying a transgressing prophet is under the direction of the church Bishop (D&C 122;10b). The proper redress for those saints who believe that Wallace Smith is in transgression is to lay their complaint before the Presiding Bishop. Any other course of action is outside the law. This includes declaring the Reorganized Church in disorder and organizing another entity to undertake its work. To speak evil against Brother Smith without obeying the law is the same as speaking evil against the law itself.
Even if Wallace Smith is divinely rejected, he will not necessarily lose his priesthood authority. William Smith was rejected. When he united with the Reorganized Church, he was received as a high priest. Although he functioned in the original church as an apostle and a patriarch, he never served in the latter two offices in the Reorganization. His divine rejection meant that he had lost his right to serve in the leading quorums and orders of the church. It did not mean that he had lost his priesthood authority.
William Smith's rejection left the church without a Presiding Patriarch until after his death. William died in 1893. Alexander Smith was called and ordained as the Reorganization's first Presiding Patriarch in 1897. The transgressions of William Smith and his subsequent rejection meant that the church could not enjoy the benefits of that office during the remaining life of the rejected patriarch. Similarly, if Wallace Smith is divinely rejected because of his transgressions, the saints cannot enjoy the benefits of the prophetic office until after his death.
A second responsibility still laying on President Smith is the naming of a successor who is a descendant of the Martyr. Latter-day revelation mandates (D&C 43:2a) that even if the prophet transgresses, he retains the gift to appoint his successor. Many saints believed that Wallace Smith properly exercised that gift in designating Grant McMurray. Those believing that Brother Smith has fulfilled his responsibility in naming his successor should follow his appointee. If Grant McMurray is not the correct successor, as members in independent branches believe, then Wallace Smith has not designated his successor. He, therefore retains that responsibility. As long as Wallace Smith is alive, he is God's conduit for revealing the true successor. Perhaps this is why God blessed the seed of Joseph Smith (D&C 107:18c). It was his son around whom the church continued through the Reorganization. It was his grandsons that guided it to our present age. It is his great-grandson who remains responsible for naming the true successor -- a descendant of the Martyr who may be the one to oversee the redemption of Zion. Those saints who wait for the seed of Joseph to assume his responsibilities demonstrate their faith in God's promise to the Palmyra seer, as contained in Section 107. Just like the Reorganization during the years before the Amboy Conference patiently waited for the fulfillment of that promise despite Joseph's apparent reluctance to assume his duties, faithful saints today have the opportunity to patiently await the completion of that same promise despite the aversion of Wallace to properly discharge his obligations.
The presence of Wallace Smith in the Reorganized Church is a critical difference between the past and present. God will not ignore the officers he places in his church. The Roman letter reveals that no power is exercised in the church that is not ordained by God (Rom 13:1). The keys of the kingdom still reside with Wallace Smith. They were not transferred to Grant McMurray. A woman participated in Brother McMurray's ordination. If she could not hold Christ's priesthood, then she could not ordain anyone to it. Her participation means that Grant McMurray was not ordained to the office of President of the High Priesthood. Wallace Smith is the only living person who now holds that office and thereby empowered to use its keys. That power was ordained by God. It is just as easy for the Lord to reveal his will through Wallace Smith as any other person. For God to keep the order that he placed in the church, he must use the officers that he appointed.
If the Reorganized Church is not in disorder, then its branches are legal branches of the original church. They have no less standing than properly formed independent branches. Since independent branches are separate from church administration, its members cannot participate in the general conferences of the Reorganized Church. They can, however, participate in joint conferences of independent branches, but those conferences are not general conferences. The pattern of the Reorganization (see #7, page 13) is that a general conference must either include all properly formed branches or be divinely commanded. Independent branches should not expect branches within the Reorganized Church to attend a joint conference of their calling. The most that independent branches can do is conduct a general conference of all properly formed independent branches. However, a general conference of the exiled branches of the Reorganized Church cannot do the business of the entire church. It can only consider business associated with the common activities and interests of the participating branches.
If every properly formed branch cannot participate in a
general conference, then no general conference of the church is lawful without a
divine commandment. That commandment must come through the prophetic office if
it is occupied. Only the prophet has the right and responsibility to bring
revelation to the entire church (D&C 27:2a: 43:1-2). Wallace Smith holds
that office. Additionally, a command to hold a general conference must be
preceded by God's revelation of the successor, which successor is a descendant
of Joseph Smith, Jr (see #9, page 14). Responsibility for appointing that
successor also rests with Wallace Smith. There can be no divine command to
reorganize the Reorganization without a revelation from the prophet. As long as
Wallace lives, he retains responsibility and, therefore, power to set the church
in order, even if he is in transgression.
The continuity of the church rests in properly formed branches. Many of them are under the jurisdiction of the leading quorums. As long as those quorums avoid disorder, the church can continue under their administration. During that time, independent branches may not reconstitute the church. Any attempt at it only forms a separate and competing entity. Nevertheless, the exiled saints may unite. While various organizations can focus the saints' attention on particular needs and activities, the only bodies that can regulate the affairs of a specific branch are its branch business meetings and joint conferences of independent branches in which that branch participates. If independent branches choose to hold joint conferences, they may elect a president, legislate rules to govern their fellowship, commission missionaries, publish materials, and sponsor shared activities. A joint conference of all independent branches is only a general conference of the exiled portion of the Reorganized Church.
Independent branches must be subject to the scriptures, laws, policies, and decisions of the Reorganized Church made before it embraced its recent changes. Likewise, joint conferences of independent branches must be bound by those same positions. Any business adopted in either branch business meetings or joint conferences of branches that contradicts the traditional policies of the Reorganized Church places that legislative assembly's claim to be a legitimate portion of the church in jeopardy. The laws of continuity require that the succeeding branches be from the same trunk as the preceding ones. Not only must they be alike in doctrine, ordinances, and authority, but they must be alike in policy, procedures, and rules.
If Wallace Smith dies without naming a successor who is a
descendant of Joseph Smith, the hope of the continuation of the church within
the Reorganization will probably die too. At that time, but not before, the
church will continue through one or more properly formed branches. Then, they
will have the responsibility and opportunity to receive the revelation to
reorganize a church that has fallen into disorder.
The scriptures promise and the Reorganization affirms that the seed of Joseph will preside over the church when Zion is redeemed (see #10, page 14). When he comes, he will correct any errors that have been introduced into the church. While the saints must wait for that leadership, they do not need to be idle during the interim. They can do many things that the saints did during the early days of the Reorganization. The efforts of members in independent branches, however, may not be as broad as those made at Beloit and Zarahemla. This is because some differences between the past and present exist, which limit the right of exiled saints to presently conduct the business of the church.
The rights, responsibilities, and limitations of the saints that are separated from the administration of the Reorganized Church are as follows:
1. Elders can organize branches to minister to the needs of the scattered and separated saints. If formed according to the proper pattern, they are legitimate branches of the Reorganized Church, equal, but not above, properly formed branches still subject to church administration. All independently formed branches constitute only a part of the church -- a part that meets in exile. Should the church fall into disorder, any branch has power, under the Lord's direction, to reconstitute the church.
2. Properly formed branches keep the law, both as it is contained in the scriptures and decreed by the councils, quorums, courts, and General Conferences of the Reorganized Church, especially as made before changes overtook the church. Those branches refusing to keep church law are, at best, defiant branches of the church and will need to be set in order before they can participate in the redemption of Zion.
3. Branches that refuse any identification with the Reorganized Church cannot be its successor. Only a branch of the Reorganized Church can reconstitute the church if the latter should become disorganized. Branches that sever their link to the Reorganization are not branches, but separate churches.
4. Branches may work together for various purposes, such as holding reunions, camps, missionary endeavors, etc. They may meet in joint business meetings and conduct business for their common interests. All independent branches may meet in a joint conference. Such conferences are limited in scope and cannot be a general conference of the church. This is because legitimate branches still under World Church administration could not participate.
5. As long as any joint conference of exiled branches represents only a portion of the church, it cannot authorize the ordination of men to the office of president, apostle, seventy, high priest, bishop, or patriarch.
6. Other organizations of saints can be beneficial, but they have no right to supervise or interfere with properly formed branches. The branch is the basic form of the church. It regulates itself through branch business meetings or joint conferences with other branches. No other form of church government is lawful.
7. The responsibility for naming the next prophet rests with Wallace Smith, at least as long as he lives. During that time, any revelation calling a person to the presidency is false. A joint conference of branches may elect a president, but he is only the acting president of the exiled portion of the Reorganized Church.
8. Independent branches are not called to correct errors that have reportedly crept into the church over the generations. If the church was guided by the Lord's prophets, the policies and positions determined during their administrations are the policies and positions that the independent branches should embrace. The job of the independent branches is to secure the saints in the restored gospel and steady them on the promise that the seed of Joseph Smith will yet preside over a pristine church.
9. Should the Reorganization fall into disorder, the independent branches can reorder the church. The Reorganized Church is not yet in disorder. Its quorums are intact, although reduced in number by the ordination of women. Since its president is not a descendant of Joseph Smith, he functions in that capacity as Acting President of the Reorganized Church.
10. Wallace Smith still holds the office of President of the High Priesthood. Latter-day revelation specifies that any revelation for the entire church will come through that office. It is just as easy for God to speak through one person as another. This means that the Lord has no reason to disregard the officers whom he has placed in his church. If the saints are worthy of direction, God will give it through the person ordained to that responsibility. As long as Wallace Smith lives, he remains responsible for both naming a successor who is a descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr., and setting the church in order, should it fall into disorder.
1. F. Mark McKiernan, Sidney Rigdon; Coronodo Press, 1971, PP 128-129
2. Joseph Smith III, Rejection of the Church, P 2
3. Joseph Smith III, The Rejection of the Church, P 4
4. Church History; Vol 3, P 210
5. Church History: Vol 3, P 208
6. Church History: Vol 3, PP 209-210
7. Letter from H. A. Stebbins, Church Secretary, to E. T. Edwards; March 8, 1879, World Church Archives
8. Church History; Vol 3, P 215
9. Saint's Herald; July 28, 1909
10. Church History: Vol 3, P 200
11. Church History; Vol 3, P 201
12. Church History; Vol 5, P 346
13. Church History; Vol 3, P 209
14. 1966 World Conference Bulletin, P 240
15. Church History; Vol 5, P 346