|The Reorganization ....|
The murder of Joseph Smith at Carthage, Illinois, threw the church into confusion. Various heretical teachings were already circulating among the saints, but the struggle for church leadership fragmented members into over 20 factions and scattered them into at least 10 states.
On four separate occasions, Joseph Smith designated his oldest son, Joseph Smith III, to be his successor. The first occurred at Liberty where Joseph was jailed on the trumped-up charge of treason. Joseph III testified that on one of two visits to the jail, either in December 1838 or January 1839, "my father, with another laid hands upon my head and blessed me, as his eldest son, to the blessings which had come down to him through the blessings of his progenitors."(1) Another blessing happened in Nauvoo on the second floor of Joseph's Red Brick Store. James Whitehead witnessed the event and stated, "Joseph Smith, the son of Joseph the martyr, our present Joseph, was anointed, ordained and set apart, to be a prophet, seer, and revelator to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by his father and his uncle Hyrum. . . N. K. Whitney, bishop of the church, held the vessel that contained the sacred oil that was poured upon his head. This was done in the upper room of what was known as Joseph's store."(2) Shortly thereafter Joseph publicly designated Joseph III as the next prophet of the church. Sophia Cook, member of the Utah faction, testified, "I heard Joseph Smith, president of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, say in substance: 'I have often been asked who would succeed me as the Prophet to the church; he is here on the stand.' He then turned and led his son Joseph before the audience and said; 'My son Joseph will be your next Prophet.'"(3) James Whitehead attended the same service and gave this testimony: "Joseph the martyr brought his son Joseph on the stand with him in Nauvoo at the east end of the temple. . . He called him to his right hand, and put one of his hands upon his head and said, 'Brothers and sisters, I am no longer your prophet; this is your prophet. I am going to rest.'(4)
After the murder of the Palmyra prophet, Sidney Rigdon, the only surviving member of the First Presidency, proposed that the saints allow him to lead the church until young Joseph, who was only 12 at the time, became old enough to assume his designated duties. Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of Twelve, rightfully argued that latter-day revelation (D&C 104:11) gave the Twelve, not a counselor to the President, the responsibility to lead the church in the absence of the First Presidency. The saints rejected Sidney Rigdon's proposal and expelled him and his supporters from the church. Shortly thereafter, William Smith, brother to the Martyr and Presiding Patriarch of the church, printed a pamphlet in which in reminded the saints that the prophetic right and presidential position belonged to Joseph's descendants. Young punished William for publishing his opinion by silencing and expelling him.
Once Brigham Young gained control of church government, he consolidated his power by reducing the authority of the other councils that the Lord placed in church structure as checks and balances. The seventy were sent on missionary trips and the Standing High Council were made subservient to the Twelve. Although these maneuvers allowed Brigham to usurp the leadership of the church, he assured the saints as late as 1860 that young Joseph would eventually take his father's place.(5)
The reason that the saints expected Joseph III to lead the church someday is only partly due to his father's blessings. It is also predicted in latter-day revelation. The Martyr received a revelation in 1841 that said, "I say unto my servant Joseph, In thee, and in thy seed, shall the kindred of the earth be blessed" (D&C 107:18c). Earlier, just after the birth of his son, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to W. W. Phelps containing the following prophesy: "It shall come to pass that I the Lord God will send one mighty and strong, holding the sceptre of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words, while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God; . . . while that man, who is called of God and appointed shall fall by the shaft of death."(6) Two months later, the Lord spoke to Joseph and revealed, "The keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come; nevertheless, through you shall the oracles be given to another" (D&C 87:21). These prophecies predicted that Joseph Smith would die, presumably while trying to steady the church, and that one of his descendants, who was "mighty and strong," would receive the oracles and set the church in order.
The first prediction -- that the Palmyra prophet would die will trying to stabilize the church -- happened at Nauvoo. About June 1, 1844, Joseph asked William Marks to help him stop the spread of polygamy among the saints, saying that "it was a cursed doctrine, and there must be every exertion made to put it down."(7) He promised to proclaim against it from the pulpit and asked Marks to prosecute in the council over which he presided those who advocated or practiced it. Otherwise, said Smith, polygamy would "eventually prove the overthrow of the church."(8) Before the month was passed, Joseph lay murdered by the Carthage Jail well.
The second part of the Seer's predictions -- that a descendant of Joseph would receive the oracles -- was fulfilled by Joseph III. In a revelation given to Jason Briggs, pastor of a branch at Beloit, Wisconsin, in November 1851, the Lord said, "In mine own due time will I call upon the seed of Joseph Smith, and will bring one forth, and he shall be mighty and strong, and he shall preside over the high priesthood of my church; and then shall the quorums assemble, and the pure in heart shall gather, and Zion be reinhabited."(9) The same revelation commanded its distribution among the saints. When Zenos Gurley, pastor at Yellowstone Branch, later named Zarahemla, heard this revelation, he received his own. It said, "The successor of Joseph Smith is Joseph Smith, the son of Joseph Smith the prophet. It is his right by lineage, saith the Lord your God."(10) Several branches embraced the message. They staked themselves to the promise that young Joseph would take his father's place and gather the scattered but steadfast branches under his leadership. When a visitor to the Zarahemla Branch told the saints assembled at prayer service that he had come directly from Nauvoo, that young Joseph was dead, and that he had seen his grave, the Holy Spirit said, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Joseph, the son of Joseph the Choice Seer, is not dead, but is alive; and it is impossible for him to die, for he was called, chosen, and ordained before the foundation of the world to be the successor to his father and president of the church."(11)
Joseph III, who initially refused any association with the factions of the church, eventually came to the Reorganization and took his father's place. When he presented himself to the saints at their 1860 conference, he said, "I come here not of myself, but by the influence of the Spirit. For some time past I have received manifestations pointing to the position which I am about to assume. . . I have come in obedience to a power not my own, and shall be dictated by the power that sent me."(12) Once young Joseph was ordained, he began fulfilling the prophecies concerning him. He presided over the high priesthood, assembled the quorums and otherwise set the church in order again. He gathered the scattered saints and finally returned them to the land of Zion. When the saints were driven from Independence in 1833, his father had prophesied, "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 led the scattered saints who had remained pure in heart back to the land of Zion. Every promise that the Lord made concerning Joseph's successor and the blessings accruing to the saints under his leadership was fulfilled in Joseph III.
Not all Latter Day Saints accepted Joseph III as leader of the church. While most factions joined the Reorganization, some refused. The most notable was the Utah faction presided over by Brigham Young. During the lifetime of the Martyr, the Lord told the church that if the saints remained disobedient, he would reject them as a church. After commanding them to build the Nauvoo Temple within a sufficient but unspecified period of time, he said, "If you do not these things at the end of the appointment, ye shall be rejected as a church with your dead, saith the Lord" (D&C 107:11a). The Temple was never completed, church leaders abandoning Nauvoo and the construction process for their westward trek. During their journey, they rebaptized and reordained many, including their leaders. This action testifies that they were severing themselves from the covenants that they made under the guidance of the Choice Seer. It is no surprise, then, that they rejected the prophet's personally-appointed successor. Their rejection of him is evidence that God had rejected them as his church. Further proof that God rejected the Utah faction is revealed in their practice of baptizing for the dead. They are the only faction of the original church to practice it today. God said, "At the end of your appointment, your baptisms for the dead shall not be acceptable to me" (D&C 107:11a). Their continued observance of this rite shows that they are the church that was rejected along with its dead.
Knowing that he would reject the leading quorums of the church after the murder of Joseph Smith, the Lord promised to raise up another people. Joseph received a revelation about which he wrote to W. W. Phelps with these words: "If Zion will not purify herself so as to be approved of in all things in his sight, he will seek another people."(13) At a communion service in Nauvoo, Joseph told the gathered saints "that if they did not cease from their sins God would reject that people; 'but,' said he, 'God will raise up another people that will keep his commands, and either I or my posterity shall be president and prophet of that people and he shall be their teacher.'"(14) When the saints at Nauvoo failed to complete the Temple within the appointed time, the Lord sought another people. He reorganized his church, brought the appointed successor to it, and gathered another people into its fellowship.
After Jason Briggs distributed the revelation that he received on the Wisconsin prairie, in which the Lord promised to send a descendant of Joseph to lead the saints, several branches in the Wisconsin area accepted it as a true revelation. They met in worship and conference. At their first conference held in June 1852, they disclaimed connection with the factions led by Brigham Young, James Strang, James Brewster, and William Smith and formed a committee to publish A Word of Consolation, a tract designed to console the saints with the promise of Joseph's rightful successor. In January 1853, the saints asked God if the tract, now ready for publication, met his approval. God told them that it needed three more pages in which polygamy was denounced. During the same meeting, the Holy Spirit indicated that those saints should organize themselves. Not knowing how to obey, they prayed for and received direction from the Lord. He revealed the procedure for selecting and ordaining apostles and also commanded them to organize a Standing High Council. These actions made a new organization of the church in which branches could find stability and hope and to which Joseph's appointed successor could come.
By 1860, the Reorganization had gathered many scattered saints whose love of and dedication to the restored gospel provided a firm foundation for the cause of Zion -- an organization to which the seed of Joseph could come. When William Marks united with the Reorganization in June 1858, the Spirit told him through Sister Helen Pomeroy, "In times past thou hast sat in council with my servant, Joseph the Seer, and the time is near when thou shalt sit in council with his son. When I called my servant Joseph, he was a lone tree; but when I shall call his son, he shall be as one of a mighty forest."(15) Joseph presented himself to the 1860 April Conference where he was received by the saints and ordained prophet and president. Under his kind guidance faithful saints were invited "to arise and shake off the sleep" and "unite once more for the emancipation of the honest in heart from the power of false doctrines and the shackles of sin."(16) Meanwhile, new converts streamed into the Reorganization, filling its offices and pews with devout, dedicated and capable saints anxious to live obediently on the land of Zion. In time, Joseph III led these new saints along with many faithful ones who were members in the former organization to the land of Zion. The Reorganization became the other people that the Lord promised to seek once the disobedient were rejected as a church.
Proof that the Reorganization is the successor to the original church is not confined to how well it fulfilled the prophecies. Two court cases concluded that it is the legitimate and legal successor to the original church. The first happened in Ohio where the church sued for possession of the Kirtland Temple. Judge L. S. Sherman ruled on February 23, 1880, "The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true and lawful continuation of and successor to the said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, and is entitled in law to all its rights and property."(17) The second case occurred in Independence. There, the church sued for possession of the Temple Lot, the spot which Joseph the Seer personally dedicated for the building of the Temple in Zion. The court refused to grant the church possession of the lot because too much time had elapsed since the church abandoned the property. Perhaps the court feared that a more favorable ruling would create the precedent for the church to regain substantial tracts of land in Jackson County that were lost when the saints were expelled in 1833. Despite this ruling, the court still concluded that the Reorganization was the lawful heir to the original church. It decided, "That the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has sustained its contention that it is the true and lawful successor of the original church organized in 1830 and identical with it in faith, doctrine, and practice."(18) Not only does prophecy show, but the courts confirm, that the Reorganization is the legitimate heir to the Restoration.
Once the church returned to Independence, it began rebuilding the "waste places of Zion." It established a printing enterprise, a hospital and sanitarium, and a rest home. It built an auditorium and numerous houses of worship. Meanwhile, the church founded and strengthen branches throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and established missions in various other areas of the world. Today, it supports congregations in over 50 countries.
After the death of Joseph III, three of his sons and one grandson occupied the office of president and prophet. During that time, the church solidified its administrative policies and procedures, while strengthening its financial condition. Just when it seemed well positioned to complete its divinely-appointed duties, it suffered a crisis concerning its identity and theology. The difficulty has brought temporarily fragmentation. Its current condition requires that God move with similar heavenly interventions and spiritual manifestations that accompanied its creation. Once this happens, it will complete its mission with the same purity, simplicity, confidence and power that attended the church in apostolic days and during its restoration. The Reorganization is the vehicle by which the promises to the saints will reach their culmination.
1. Joseph Smith III; Joseph Smith III and the Restoration; Herald House; 1952; P 13
2. Autumn Leaves, Vol 1; P 202
3. Gomer Griffiths, An Exegesis of the Priesthood; P 28
4. Autumn Leaves, Vol 1; P 202
5. Brigham Young: Journal of Discourses; Vol; P 69
6. Church History, Vol 1; P 260
7. Church History, Vol 2; P 733
9. Church History, Vol 3; P 201
10. Ibid., P 208
11. Edmond Briggs; Early History of the Reorganization; Price Publishing; 1998; P 66
12. Joseph Smith III, P 162
13. Church History, Vol 1; P 267-268
14. Autumn Leaves, Vol 1;; P 203
15. Briggs, P 125
16. Church History, Vol 3; P 294
17. Church History, Vol 4; P 303
18. Joseph Smith III, P 483