“Chapter Six: Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 67–78
“Chapter Six,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 67–78
The date of 6 April 1830 is significant to Latter-day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized on that day. The organization of the Church climaxed a decade of preparation for the Prophet Joseph Smith, as Elder Gordon B. Hinckley pointed out:
“This day of organization was, in effect, a day of commencement, the graduation for Joseph from ten years of remarkable schooling. It had begun with the incomparable vision in the grove in the spring of 1820, when the Father and the Son appeared to the fourteen-year-old boy. It had continued with the tutoring from Moroni, with both warnings and instructions given on multiple occasions. Then there was the translation of the ancient record, and the inspiration, the knowledge, the revelation that came from that experience. There was the bestowal of divine authority, the ancient priesthood again conferred upon men by those who were its rightful possessors—John the Baptist in the case of the Aaronic Priesthood, and Peter, James, and John in the case of the Melchizedek. There were revelations, a number of them, in which the voice of God was heard again, and the channel of communication opened between man and the Creator. All of these were preliminary to that historic April 6.”1
Shortly after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the priesthood from heavenly messengers in 1829, they were shown in revelation “the precise day upon which, according to [God’s] will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his church once again, here upon the earth.”2 Peter Whitmer, Sr., offered the use of his home for the organization meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday, 6 April, according to the revelation. At the appointed hour, close to sixty people assembled to witness the formal organization of the Church of Jesus Christ. Approximately twenty of these people had come from Colesville, a distance of approximately one hundred miles, to participate in the events of this sacred occasion.3
The meeting was simple. Joseph Smith, then twenty-four years old, called the group to order and designated five associates—Oliver Cowdery; Hyrum Smith; Peter Whitmer, Jr.; Samuel H. Smith; and David Whitmer—to join him to meet New York’s legal requirements for incorporating a religious society.4 After kneeling in solemn prayer, Joseph asked those present if they were willing to accept him and Oliver as their teachers and spiritual advisers. Everyone raised their hands in the affirmative. Although they had previously received the Melchizedek Priesthood, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery then ordained each other to the office of elder. They did this to signify that they were elders in the newly organized church. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered next. The prayers used had been received through revelation (see D&C 20:75–79). Joseph and Oliver then confirmed those who had previously been baptized as members of the Church of Jesus Christ and bestowed upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost.
In a revelation received on this historic day, Joseph was designated “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (D&C 21:1). The Lord instructed members of the infant Church to receive Joseph’s word “as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:5).
The organization of the Church of Jesus Christ was an unforgettable occasion for those present. Joseph reported that “after a happy time spent in witnessing and feeling for ourselves the powers and blessings of the Holy Ghost, through the grace of God bestowed upon us, we dismissed with the pleasing knowledge that we were now individually members of, and acknowledged of God, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ organized in accordance with commandments and revelations given by Him to ourselves in these last days, as well as according to the order of the Church as recorded in the New Testament.”5 Joseph also took opportunity to teach the Saints and bear his own testimony. Several individuals were baptized on that eventful day, including Orrin Porter Rockwell, Martin Harris, and Joseph Smith’s parents. It was a time of joy and happiness in the life of the Prophet, who exclaimed, “Praise to my God! that I lived to see my own father baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ!”6
On Sunday, 11 April, Oliver Cowdery delivered the Church’s first public discourse in the Whitmers’ Fayette home. Many people attended, and that day six people were baptized. A week later seven more joined. Joseph Smith also received a revelation answering the question of the necessity of being baptized again when an individual has previously been baptized in another church. The answer was: “Although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works” (D&C 22:2). The Lord affirmed that authority was essential to perform a valid baptism. The Church, then as now, provided all sincere believers in Christ and his gospel the organizational structure for receiving the saving ordinances, enjoying fellowship with other believers, being taught more perfectly in the principles of the gospel, and assisting in the saving of others.
Later in April, Joseph Smith visited Joseph Knight, Sr., in Colesville. Joseph related, “Mr. Knight and his family … were willing to reason with me upon my religious views, and were, as usual, friendly and hospitable. We held several meetings in the neighborhood; we had many friends, and some enemies. Our meetings were well attended, and many began to pray fervently to Almighty God, that He would give them wisdom to understand the truth.”7
One of the people who regularly attended the meetings was Newel Knight, a close friend of the Prophet. Newel Knight was afraid to pray, but he finally accepted the persuasive challenge of the Prophet to do so in the next meeting. When the moment arrived, Newel declined, promising that he would pray later in private. The next morning he went into the woods where he tried to pray, but he failed because he felt guilty for refusing to pray publicly. The Prophet said that Newel “began to feel uneasy, and continued to feel worse both in mind and body, until, upon reaching his own house, his appearance was such as to alarm his wife very much. He requested her to go and bring me to him. I went and found him suffering very much in his mind, and his body acted upon in a very strange manner; his visage and limbs distorted and twisted in every shape and appearance possible to imagine; and finally he was caught up off the floor of the apartment [room], and tossed about most fearfully.”8
Neighbors and relatives gathered to see what was happening. Joseph finally caught hold of Newel’s hand. Newel said he knew he was possessed of the devil and he also knew that Joseph had the power to cast him out. Acting on Newel’s faith as well as his own, Joseph commanded the devil to depart in the name of Jesus Christ. “Immediately Newel spoke out and said that he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight. This was the first miracle which was done in the Church … , and it was done not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God, and by the power of godliness.”9 Newel Knight’s facial expressions returned to normal, and his body relaxed.
“The Spirit of the Lord descended upon him [Newel], and the visions of eternity were opened to his view.” In his weakened condition he was placed on his bed, but he said he felt himself “attracted upward, and remained for some time enwrapt in contemplation, insomuch that I knew not what was going on in the room.” In this state his body was elevated until he touched the ceiling.10
Many of the people who saw these events were convinced of the power of God and later joined the Church. Joseph soon returned to Fayette. A few weeks later, Newel Knight came to Fayette and was baptized by David Whitmer.
By June 1830 the Saints in New York were located primarily in Manchester, Fayette, and Colesville. The membership of the Church at this point was about thirty people. Following revealed instructions (see D&C 20:75), the Prophet called them together for the first conference of the Church on 9 June, at Fayette. Many people attended who already believed or were eager to learn. Those assembled partook of the sacrament, and several recent converts were confirmed. Samuel H. Smith was ordained an elder, and Joseph Smith, Sr., and Hyrum were ordained priests. Ten brethren received “licenses,” which were small documents certifying they were authorized to represent the Church (see D&C 20:64–65). Oliver Cowdery kept the minutes of this meeting and was appointed by the conference to keep the official Church records.
Joseph Smith read to the congregation the “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ” (most of sections 20 and 22 of the Doctrine and Covenants), which contain significant instructions pertaining to the order of the Church.11
Joseph Smith wrote, “Much exhortation and instruction was given, and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us in a miraculous manner—many of our number prophesied, whilst others had the heavens opened to their view.” Newel Knight was filled with unspeakable love and peace. He saw a vision of the Savior and learned that he would someday be admitted into the presence of the Lord.
“Such scenes as these were calculated to inspire our hearts with joy unspeakable, and fill us with awe and reverence for that Almighty Being. … To find ourselves engaged in the very same order of things as observed by the holy Apostles of old; to realize the importance and solemnity of such proceedings; and to witness and feel with our own natural senses, the like glorious manifestations of the powers of the Priesthood, the gifts and blessings of the Holy Ghost, and the goodness and condescension of a merciful God unto such as obey the everlasting Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, combined to create within us sensations of rapturous gratitude, and inspire us with fresh zeal and energy in the cause of truth.”12
Shortly after this conference twelve people were baptized in Seneca Lake by David Whitmer. They included Joseph Smith’s sister Katherine and his brothers William and Don Carlos.
Immediately after the conference, Joseph Smith returned to his home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. In the latter part of June 1830, the Prophet, accompanied by his wife, Oliver Cowdery, and John and David Whitmer, visited the Knight family in Colesville, New York. Joseph Knight, Sr., who had read the Book of Mormon and was satisfied it was true, and a number of others in the area desired baptism. On Saturday, 26 June, the brethren dammed a stream to make a pond suitable for baptisms. That night a mob, incited by leaders of some area churches who feared losing members, demolished the dam. On Sunday the brethren proceeded with the meeting. The Prophet related, “Oliver Cowdery preached, and others of us bore testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, the doctrine of repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”13 Some members of the mob attended the meeting and afterward harassed those in attendance.
Early the next day, 28 June, the brethren repaired the dam and held the baptismal service. Thirteen people were baptized, including Emma Smith. Many neighbors mocked them, asking if they “had been washing sheep.”14 Quietly the Saints returned to Joseph Knight’s residence and then to the home of Newel Knight, but their enemies followed them, hurling insults and threatening to harm the new converts. A meeting was to be held that evening to confirm those who had been baptized, but before it could begin, Joseph Smith was arrested and taken to South Bainbridge in Chenango County for trial as a “disorderly person.” Mobs tried to intercept Joseph and the constable, but the officer succeeded in protecting the Prophet.
Joseph Knight, Sr., arranged for two neighbors, James Davidson and John Reid, “men renowned for their integrity,” to defend Joseph Smith in court the next day. The circulation of “scandalous falsehoods” about the Prophet attracted many boisterous spectators to the trial. Nevertheless, the testimonies of Josiah Stowell and two of his daughters were instrumental in achieving Joseph’s acquittal. But the trial was no sooner over than a constable from Broome County arrested him again on the same charge.15
Joseph reported: “The constable who served this second warrant upon me had no sooner arrested me than he began to abuse and insult me; and so unfeeling was he with me, that although I had been kept all the day in court without anything to eat since the morning, yet he hurried me off to Broome county, a distance of about fifteen miles, before he allowed me any kind of food whatever. He took me to a tavern, and gathered in a number of men, who used every means to abuse, ridicule and insult me. They spit upon me, pointed their fingers at me, saying, ‘Prophesy, prophesy!’ and thus did they imitate those who crucified the Savior of mankind, not knowing what they did.”
In the trial the next morning, many bore false witness against the Prophet, often contradicting themselves. When Newel Knight took the stand, Mr. Seymour, a prosecutor who was anxious to defy Mormonism, questioned Newel about the incident of the devil being cast out of him:
“‘And had not Joe Smith some hand in its being done?’
“‘And did not he cast him out of you?’
“‘No, sir; it was done by the power of God, and Joseph Smith was the instrument in the hands of God, on the occasion. He commanded him to come out of me in the name of Jesus Christ.’
“‘And are you sure that it was the devil?’
“‘Did you see him after he was cast out of you?’
“‘Yes, sir! I saw him.’
“‘Pray, what did he look like?’
“… The witness replied:
“‘I believe I need not answer your last question, but I will do it, provided I be allowed to ask you one question first, and you answer me, viz., Do you, Mr. Seymour, understand the things of the spirit?’
“‘No,’ answered Mr. Seymour, ‘I do not pretend to such big things.’
“‘Well, then,’ replied Knight, ‘it would be of no use to tell you what the devil looked like, for it was a spiritual sight, and spiritually discerned; and of course you would not understand it were I to tell you of it.’
“The lawyer dropped his head, whilst the loud laugh of the audience proclaimed his discomfiture. …
“… These men [James Davidson and John Reid], although not regular lawyers, were upon this occasion able to put to silence their opponents, and convince the court that I was innocent. They spoke like men inspired of God.”16 The Prophet was again acquitted, but mobs harassed him until he found safety at his wife’s sister’s house and later at his home in Harmony.
A few days later Joseph Smith returned to Colesville with Oliver Cowdery to confirm those who had been baptized; they had just arrived when a mob began to gather. They thought it best to leave, without even taking time to rest. Joseph and Oliver barely escaped the mob that pursued them throughout the night. Joseph said, “Thus were we persecuted on account of our religious faith—in a country the Constitution of which guarantees to every man the indefeasible right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience—and by men, too, who were professors of religion, and who were not backward to maintain the right of religious liberty for themselves, though they could thus wantonly deny it to us.”17
Meanwhile the Saints in Colesville prayed that Joseph and Oliver would again come to visit them. The Prophet’s return to Colesville in early August involved a miracle. Because hostile feelings persisted, Joseph and Hyrum Smith and John and David Whitmer prayed mightily before their journey, and as Newel Knight declared, “their prayers were not in vain. A little distance from my house they encountered a large company of men at work upon the public road, amongst whom were some of our most bitter enemies who looked earnestly at the brethren but not knowing them, the brethren passed on unmolested.”18 The confirmations that followed and the partaking of the sacrament together was a joyful interlude between troubles.
Throughout these tribulations, the Lord sustained the Prophet and revealed fundamental truths of Latter-day Saint theology and practice. Among these truths were the “visions of Moses,” comprising chapter 1 of the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, which set forth the nature and extent of God’s work (see Moses 1:33, 39) and exposed Satan as the source of opposition to righteousness. Throughout the summer Joseph studied the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. This study formed the basis for the book of Moses and much of his “inspired translation” of the Bible, which is now known as the Joseph Smith Translation.19
Other revelations were received during July telling Joseph to be patient in his afflictions and instructing him to continue in prayer and “in writing the things which shall be given thee by the Comforter, and expounding all scriptures unto the church. …
“For thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion; and in this thou shalt have strength. …
“And in temporal affairs thou shalt not have strength” (D&C 24:5, 7, 9). Joseph’s calling was as a prophet; he was not to be directly concerned about providing for his own temporal needs. This was not an easy sacrifice for him or his family. He was also counseled to let his “time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures [an allusion to his inspired translation of the Bible], and to preaching, and to confirming the church at Colesville, and to performing your labors on the land, such as is required, until after you shall go to the west to hold the next conference; and then it shall be made known what you shall do” (D&C 26:1). This conference would take place in September in Fayette.
In July, Joseph received a revelation for his wife, Emma (see D&C 25). She was designated “an elect lady” (v. 3) and comforted in her afflictions. She was also directed to compile the first hymnbook for the Church. The hymns she compiled, and others written since that time, represent an important expression of faith for the Latter-day Saints. Speaking of the importance of music in our dispensation, the Lord said, “my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (v. 12).
When the Prophet returned to Harmony in August, he received an important revelation concerning sacramental emblems. Newel Knight and his wife, Sally, had gone to Harmony to visit Joseph and Emma. Neither of the women had been confirmed members of the Church because of disruption by the mob, so the two couples, together with John Whitmer, decided to attend to this ordinance and to partake of the sacrament. Joseph went to “procure some wine for the occasion, but had gone only a short distance when [he] was met by a heavenly messenger.” The angel told him that it did not matter what was eaten or drunk in the sacrament as long as the ordinance was performed with an eye single to the glory of God. Joseph was also warned not to purchase wine from enemies (see D&C 27:2–4). In obedience to this charge, the small group used “some wine of [their] own making” and held a meeting. They “spent the evening in a glorious manner. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon [them].”20
While these events transpired in Colesville and Harmony during the summer of 1830, missionary work was also underway in other parts of New York State. People had shared the gospel with family, friends, and neighbors even before the Church was organized. More than one aspiring missionary had been told through revelation: “Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap, let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God” (D&C 6:3; see also 4:4; 11:3; 12:3; 14:3).
Once printing of the Book of Mormon started, public interest in Joseph Smith and Mormonism increased. Rumors flourished about the gold book being printed in Palmyra. One man who heard the rumors was Thomas B. Marsh of Boston, who later became the first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. His curiosity led him to Grandin’s print shop; there he met Martin Harris, who gave him proof sheets of the first sixteen printed pages of the Book of Mormon and then accompanied him to the Smith home in Manchester. Oliver Cowdery spent portions of two days telling him about Joseph and the Restoration. Thomas returned to Massachusetts and taught his family about the new work. When he heard the Church had been organized, he moved his family to Palmyra. In September 1830 he was baptized and called on a mission (see D&C 31).
Samuel H. Smith, the Prophet’s younger brother, was ordained an elder at the first conference of the Church on 9 June 1830 and was soon taking summer trips into neighboring counties, alone or with his parents, to sell the Book of Mormon. He was often discouraged because his efforts were for the most part rejected. He did, however, leave one copy of the Book of Mormon with a Reverend John P. Greene, who, although not interested in reading it himself, said he would ask his parishioners whether they would like to buy a copy. Three weeks later Samuel went again to see Reverend Greene, but he had not returned from his circuit tour. His wife, Rhoda, said that the book had not sold but that she had read the book and liked it. Samuel left the book with her, and later her husband read it and was converted.
Phineas Young, a brother of Rhoda Young Greene, had bought a copy of the Book of Mormon from Samuel earlier in April 1830 when he met Samuel returning from Lima, New York, where he had been preaching. He gave the Book of Mormon to Brigham Young, who gave it to his sister, Fanny Young Murray, the mother-in-law of Heber C. Kimball. After intense study these men and their families were baptized into the Church. Brigham Young spent two years in study and comparison before he was baptized in April 1832. Hence, Samuel Smith’s early missionary labors resulted in some of the most influential converts of the early Church. He was a dedicated missionary who labored in New York, New England, Ohio, and Missouri, converting scores of people and organizing several branches of the Church.
Joseph Smith, Sr., also thrust his sickle into “ripe fields” that first summer. With his fourteen-year-old son, Don Carlos, he preached to his father’s family in St. Lawrence County, and his message was received with joy. Asael’s son John, brother of Joseph, Sr., also accepted the gospel, as did John’s son George A. Smith, who later became one of the Twelve Apostles. Thus, three generations were united in the faith of the Restoration.
Twenty-three-year-old Parley P. Pratt was another New York convert that summer. Parley had settled in the wilderness of northeastern Ohio, and there he joined a group of restorationists (disciples or Campbellites) under Sidney Rigdon’s leadership. In the summer of 1830, as Parley journeyed by canal through New York to visit relatives, the Spirit prompted him to send his wife, Thankful, on ahead so he could stop to preach his religious ideas near Palmyra at the village of Newark. A Baptist deacon told him about the Book of Mormon and let him read it. He eagerly read the title page and the testimony of the witnesses and began to read the text. He recounted the following:
“I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.
“As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life. I soon determined to see the young man who had been the instrument of its discovery and translation.
“I accordingly visited the village of Palmyra, and inquired for the residence of Mr. Joseph Smith. I found it some two or three miles from the village. As I approached the house at the close of the day I overtook a man who was driving some cows. … It was Hyrum Smith. I informed him of the interest I felt in the Book of Mormon, and of my desire to learn more about it. He welcomed me to his house. … We conversed most of the night, during which I unfolded to him much of my experience in my search after truth, and my success so far; together with that which I felt was lacking, viz. a commissioned priesthood, or apostleship to minister in the ordinances of God.”21
Hyrum continued to teach Parley, and they soon journeyed to Fayette to meet the Whitmers and other members of the growing branch of the Church. Parley was baptized and ordained an elder by Oliver Cowdery in September 1830. Invested with authority, Parley traveled to his boyhood home in Columbia County, New York, where he addressed large audiences each day, but only his brother Orson accepted the message. Orson was baptized on his nineteenth birthday and left within two weeks to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith in Fayette.
Meanwhile in Harmony, Joseph Smith, assisted by John Whitmer, began to arrange and copy the revelations Joseph had received. While engaged in this project, Joseph received a letter from Oliver Cowdery that grieved him. Oliver said he had discovered the following error of language in one of the revelations: “and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins” (D&C 20:37). Believing that his position as the second elder in the Church authorized him to do so, Oliver wrote to Joseph. Joseph reported:
“The … quotation, he said, was erroneous, and added: ‘I command you in the name of God to erase those words, that no priestcraft be amongst us!’
“I immediately wrote to him in reply, in which I asked him by what authority he took upon him to command me to alter or erase, to add to or diminish from, a revelation or commandment from Almighty God.”
About this time a Methodist minister convinced Isaac Hale of many falsehoods about his son-in-law. As a result, life became unbearable for Joseph and his family in Harmony. Therefore, Joseph began to make preparations to permanently move to Fayette, where he had been invited to live with Peter Whitmer, Sr., again. In late August, Newel Knight took his team and wagon to Harmony to move Joseph and his family to Fayette. Upon arriving there, Joseph discovered that the Whitmers agreed with Oliver Cowdery about the supposed error in the revelation. Joseph noted, “It was not without both labor and perseverance that I could prevail with any of them to reason calmly on the subject. However, Christian Whitmer at length became convinced that the sentence was reasonable, and according to Scripture; and finally, with his assistance, I succeeded in bringing, not only the Whitmer family, but also Oliver Cowdery to acknowledge that they had been in error, and that the sentence in dispute was in accordance with the rest of the commandment.”22
In Fayette, Joseph encountered another serious problem regarding revelation. Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses and a brother-in-law to the Whitmers, possessed a stone through which he received what he called “revelations” about the building of Zion and the order of the Church. Joseph insisted that these claims “were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house, as laid down in the New Testament, as well as in our late revelations.”23 Since a conference was scheduled for 26 September, the Prophet decided not to do more than talk with the brethren about the subject until the conference met. Many people, especially Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmers, believed in the claims of Hiram Page.
The Prophet turned to the Lord in prayer and received a revelation directed to Oliver Cowdery in which he was charged not to command Joseph Smith, the leader of the Church. The Lord made it clear that only the President of the Church has the right to receive revelations for the Church (see D&C 28:2). He also was told that the location of the city of Zion had not yet been revealed, but would be in due time (see v. 9). Furthermore, Oliver was instructed to go to Hiram Page and convince him that the stone and the purported revelations came from Satan (see v. 11). At the scheduled September conference, Hiram Page’s stone was discussed; those present, including Hiram, renounced it and the “revelations” received through it as false. The conference also voted that Joseph Smith was to “receive and write Revelations & Commandments for this Church.”24 In all, the conference lasted three days. Joseph testified that “much of the power of God manifested amongst us; the Holy Ghost came upon us, and filled us with joy unspeakable; and peace, and faith, and hope, and charity abounded in our midst.”25