Joseph Smith Jr. and reorganized by his son Joseph Smith III several years after the death of his father.
Date: 1830 New York and 1860, Amboy, Illinois, USA respectively
Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants. They prefer the Inspired Version of the Bible which was 'translated' by Joseph Smith Jr.
One Prophet at the top with apostles and seventies under.
When trying to unravel the true from the false with regards the teachings of Joseph Smith Jr., the Seer, and author of the Book of Mormon, and most of the Doctrines and Covenants one runs into the problem of objectivity. The LDS and the RLDS, a later splinter group, disagree on many points, such as the exact teachings of Joseph Smith Jr. and who he chose as successor to himself. Joseph Smith Jr. allegedly found a set of gold plates under the guidance of the angel Moroni. With the records were a pair of spectacles called The Urim and the Thumim which enabled Joseph to translate these plates into the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, and his closest followers then founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
His church grew, and towns were founded by his followers. One of these, Nauvoo, was to be the center of his group until his death. He joined the Freemasons and wanted to start his own Masonic temple in Nauvoo. The Masons refused to acknowledge this temple and threw him out of their order. He later incorporated many of their mystical ceremonies into the temple. Many of the secret handshakes and passwords used by the masons can be found in the temple ceremonies attended by the LDS Mormons. The RLDS do not accept that any of these are from God, and their temples are very different from the LDS temples.
Joseph Smith Jr. had many enemies, and probably rightly so. History shows that he tried to persuade several women who were married to be his instead. In Nauvoo some people had had enough of his excesses and published a newspaper exposing him. Their first issue was their last since Joseph ordered a small mob to destroy the printing presses and confiscate the publication. In doing this he went against the constitution by denying the press their freedom.
Joseph ended up in Jail, partly for his own protection, in Carthage. On June 27th, 1844, Joseph Smith met his death in this jail. Someone had smuggled in a gun to Joseph. As a mob gathered outside the jail Joseph was drinking some wine with his brother Hyrum and two other friends. The mob broke in and tried to storm the upstairs where they were waiting. In the ensuing battle Joseph shot two people and injured a third. Finally, when it was obvious that they were losing the battle, Joseph went to a window, presumably to try to flee, and he was shot dead.
Following his death and after some infighting many factions were caused. Most Mormons pledged allegiance to Brigham Young, who then added more peculiar teachings to Mormonism. Many Mormons pledged allegiance and voted to accept the leadership of the twelve until the Lord would establish the rightful leader. Brigham Young, being the eldest member of that body, was president of the twelve. Under his direction there started a mass exodus from Nauvoo toward the western territories of the United States. After leaving Nauvoo, he persuaded all of those member who went with him, to be rebaptized and reordained. It is interesting to note that in the true spirit of the Mormon church two separate individuals had 'visions' from God in which they were told they were to be the successor to Joseph Jr. These were James Strang and Alpheus Cutler.
Joseph's brother, William, suggested that he should be regent until Joseph III was of age, and Sidney Rigdon, Joseph's theological advisor and probably the source of most of his more divergent teachings, made his case for leadership. In the mid to late 1850's a new group started forming out of these factions. This was the RLDS, which Joseph's son, Joseph Smith III would head up. According to this group, and according to the High court of the US, they are the rightful successors of Joseph Smith Jr. He had written a Will in which he passed on the title of Prophet to his son. Joseph's wife, Emma, knew this and did not follow Brigham Young from Illinois into Utah.
Emma later remarried and seemingly wanted to put Mormonism behind her. In the strange world of the followers of Joseph Smith Jr. there are now over 100 break away groups. This is so although they claim that their religion is united, and one of their constant questions to the Christian is why there are so many denominations!
Leadership to date in the RLDS
Although the actual doctrinal differences between the LDS and the RLDS are many, their roots are the same. According to written testimonies, Joseph Smith's son, Joseph Smith III, was ordained and anointed by the Mormons in the winter of 1843 at Nauvoo, Illinois. The succession of prophet-presidents have followed Joseph Smith's bloodline until recently. Joseph Smith III was persuaded into leading the RLDS in 1860, and was ordained on the 6th of April. Joseph Smith III spent much of his time trying, in vain, to clear his father of the allegations of polygamy. Joseph III contended that since his father was a good man, his father could never have initiated or practiced the doctrine.
Joseph also spent a lot of time distancing the RLDS from the LDS and uniting the different, autonomous, Mormon groups which had developed since his father's death. In the latter he was very successful. Frederick M. Smith succeeded Joseph III, his father, when he died in 1914. Fred M. was well educated and present day liberal thought within the RLDS can be traced back to his rule.
He instituted a semi-dictatorial rule and moved the headquarters of the RLDS to Independence, Missouri. This was significant since Joseph Smith Jr. called this area Zion. Many factions within Mormonism, including the RLDS, see this as the place where Jesus will return. Fred M. died in 1946 and was succeeded by Israel A. Smith, his brother, Joseph Smith Jr's. grandson. Israel was less confrontational than Fred M. and mended many rifts which were created by Fred's rule. In 1958 Israel died and rule was passed on to his half brother, W. Wallace. Wallace differed from the rest by retiring and handing the leadership over to his son, Wallace B. Smith in 1978. Wallace, also known as 'Wally', has become very controversial in introducing the priesthood to women. He also started the building of a temple in Independence in accordance with a prophesy from Joseph Jr. - although over 100 years too late. Wally also wrote a set of Presidential papers which were leaked. These, in accord with his father's thoughts, and writings, belittled the value of the Book of Mormon and the 'only true church' theory. Wally has been a very unpopular president.
Since this time, Wallace B. Smith has stepped down and has appointed a non-family member to the head of the church. Further changes and alterations have been allowed to enter into the Reorganized church under the leadership of W. Grant McMurray.
Differences with the LDS
The RLDS are much more 'Christian' in their theology than the LDS. Many of the obvious excesses of the Mormons are not present. In careful examination, however, it is found that in disagreeing with the LDS they also disagree with Joseph Smith Jr. In the following list it can be seen that the RLDS and their founder differ. A typical response to this from the RLDS member is that the LDS have distorted the truth and history. However upon close examination of history this does not stand up. It is a symptom of them trying to accept Joseph Smith Jr. as a prophet of God, while still trying to avoid the obvious fact that he contradicted Scripture, and contradicted himself. It is a classical case of trying to have "it both ways".
Polygamy - the RLDS see this as unchristian, and correctly so, denying D&C section 132 in the LDS version. Many witnesses to the polygamous nature of Joseph Smith exist even within the RLDS history books.
Celestial Marriage - The RLDS see heaven in much the same way as Christians rejecting the LDS viewpoint of Celestial marriage.
Plurality of gods - the RLDS accept a Trinitarian view of the Godhead although officially there seems to be some confusion as to the role and personality of the Holy Spirit. At times their teachings may seem modalistic. (King Follett Discourse). They reject the belief that there are billions of gods, each with their own planet, and each has progressed from manhood to godhood.
Scripture - The RLDS do not accept the Pearl of Great Price as Scripture, unlike the LDS. They also have an open Canon where their latest prophet may add scripture to Doctrines and Covenants. They also, as mentioned before, do not accept the LDS D&C 132 although this was given by Joseph Smith. Out of over 137 'revelations' to the LDS only 106 appear in the RLDS version.
Temple - The RLDS temple is not full of secret ceremonies such as 'sealing' and secret signs. Instead it is a place of public worship. There is some evidence that a baptismal font (probably in the Nauvoo temple) was used prior to Joseph Smith's assassination for baptism by proxy for the dead.
Baptism for the dead - This temple procedure is where dead ancestors are baptized in proxy by the LDS church. The RLDS do not accept this although, in the early 1900's, their prophet seems to have been seeking revelation regarding the meaning of this. Even the RLDS church history tells the RLDS that Joseph Smith Jr. was given a revelation regarding this in 1836 when Elijah came and introduced it. Joseph also had very specific revelation regarding this in D&C 109 and 110 although these sections have been moved to the appendix of the RLDS D&C as of 1970.
Afterlife and godhood - The LDS and RLD's both believe in three levels of afterlife, namely the Telestial, Terrestrial and the Celestial. The RLDS believe that all are saved from Hell (Universalism) and that their ultimate destiny among these levels is dependent on ones response to their gospel. The LDS differ in that they believe that certain types of Mormons (married temple Mormons) are able to become exalted beings and rule their own planet.
Differences with Christianity
Baptism - although some groups within Christendom, such as the Catholics and Church of Christ affirm the necessity of baptism (adult or infant) for salvation, the Bible says salvation is through grace alone. Some Bible passages, when ignoring the context, seem to teach that it is necessary for salvation to be baptized, others clearly teach that only faith is required, as in the case of the thief on the cross. The RLDS teach that it is necessary to be baptized.
Apostasy - The RLDS teach that the church became apostate sometime soon after the death of the apostles. The Bible teaches that the church will never fall - "...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Mt 16:18)
Prophets - The RLDS teach that prophets must exist in the church, and that these are the leaders of the church. To this they add ordination, and more recently, ordination of women. This 1984 'revelation' has infuriated a large group of RLDS members who seemingly are splitting away. A survey reported that 33% were dissatisfied with their prophet. One of the reasons for this 'revelation' was that, traditionally, the prophet of the RLDS church should be a direct descendent of Joseph Smith, and the present president has no male offspring. This necessitated a change in mindset. Either they abandon this tradition, or they accept women into the priesthood.
Scripture - The Book of Mormon, The Inspired Version of the Bible and Doctrines and Covenants are used as Scripture by the RLDS. The Book of Mormon seems to be losing ground. Their present prophet, Wallace B., and other RLDS scholars have gone on record as saying that it is not reliable and that it represents 19th century theology. There is also a view within the RLDS which says that they accept no Scripture as inerrant and so, following their second president, liberalism started creeping in.
Joseph Smith - The RLDS proclaim this man as a true prophet of God. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 gives us a definition of a false prophet as one who proclaims in the name of God, and whose proclamations prove to be false. Joseph regularly prophesied falsely, and in accordance with the other definition of a false prophet (Dt. 13:1-5) he also taught of false gods.
Priesthood - The RLDS, as the LDS, believe in the present need for priests from the Aaronic and the Melchizedek priesthoods. Hebrews 7:27, 9:26 and 10:5-12 all show that the Aaronic priesthood is no longer required, and Hebrews also shows that the Melchizedek priesthood only belongs to Christ.
A Christian Evaluation
The RLDS, at least since the last two prophets, have been trying to merge the RLDS into mainline Christianity. They have been attempting to play down the differences which exist. Indeed their cars have been seen with the Icthus symbol, their church buildings have crosses and their services use mainline Christian song/chorus books, as well as their own.
The Bible is referred to more regularly than the Book of Mormon, and their theology is much more in line with the Christian church than the LDS. With the excesses of Joseph Smith, and their implied doctrines - such as Baptism required for salvation, and the need for a restoration of the church since the 1st century apostasy - it will be difficult for them to enter into the Christian fold. If they deny Joseph Smith, deny their need for a prophet at the head of their church, deny the Book of Mormon, deny their open Canon and baptism for salvation, then they could very well be another Christian denomination. When speaking to some LDS missionaries this author sometimes tries to channel them into the RLDS church first, so that the next step into the Christian fold may be shorter.
Joseph Smith is such a stumbling block for many reasons. Primarily because of his blatant lying and false prophecies. Some examples of false prophesies follow:
The Temple Lot - In D&C Section 84 Smith prophesied that a temple would be built on the temple lot in Independence, Missouri. This is now happening. But Smith said that it would be in 'this generation'. This revelation was given in September 1832, 160 years before it started to happen.
Civil War - In D&C Section 87, dated December 25th, 1832, Smith prophesies that the Northern states would fight the southern states. This war becoming fairly common prediction at the time. This happened, but Smith also added that it would spread into all nations. This did not happen.
The Mission - in D&C 114:1 Smith prophesies that one of his apostles, David W. Patten, would perform a mission in the spring of 1839. David W. Patten died October 24th, 1838. Joseph Smith Jr. is such a stumbling block also since he displayed arrogance which is not welcome in a prophet of God. In May 1844, Smith claimed:
"I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did a work as " (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408-409).
Add to this that he believed people lived on the moon (see Oliver Huntington's diaries), his polygamous relations, the fake book of Abraham (in the Pearl of Great Price), his occultist practices and so on, and you have a man who obviously had a great imagination and a great mind, but who has mislead people since the early 19th century. The RLDS cannot meld into Christianity while his teachings and influence is in their midst.
In His Grace,
Mike Harris Jr
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