Previously: Don't Call Me A Right-Winger
Connie and I had some new friends visit us last week who are relatively new readers of this blog and they told me they check in every day to see if there is anything new here. My intent is to post something new every month, but the last entry was posted in October and I'm currently recovering from cataract surgery in both eyes and probably won't be able to see well enough to write something before December ends, either. So I thought for now I would share one of my more important pieces in the event anyone else is stopping by searching for new content. This isn't new, of course, and I hate to come off as a one-note Johnny, but given the direction the current leaders are taking the Church lately, it might be a good idea to take a closer look at how they measure up to our founding prophet.
This piece was written when Thomas Monson was president of the Church, but everything here still applies. So, to begin:
Did The Lord Choose Not To Anoint "The Lord's Anointed"?
I have a wonderful cousin who I love like the dickens, but she recently rebuked me online by writing "You are so deceived. I'd rather follow a prophet than someone who is disgruntled, leading others astray. I feel sorry for you."
Well, I get that now and then. But when it comes from someone who hasn't seen me in more than a decade, I feel a correction is in order. So I would like to put my dear cousin's mind at ease and reassure her that I do follow a prophet; a prophet I believe to have been divinely appointed by Jesus Christ to be not only a prophet, but a seer and a revelator as well. This is a prophet I presume my cousin also looks to as divinely anointed: Joseph Smith, Junior.
On a blog so boldly titled as "Pure Mormonism" you would think readers would be aware of my testimony of Joseph Smith and my devotion to the gospel of Christ he was instrumental in restoring. But it turns out that a good number of active members of the Church -some of whom know me personally- haven't actually read much of my words here, choosing instead to assume I have devolved into a nasty, unrepentant nonbeliever. So I guess a reminder that I remain devoted to the faith, and to the prophet who founded it, may be in order now and then.
This prophet, Joseph Smith, is the only man our pioneer ancestors thought of as the prophet to the church, and he had that sole distinction among the membership throughout the entire lifetimes of the generation who knew him. Even though Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and others attained the office of president of the Church, Joseph Smith was the only one the 19th century Saints ever recognized as the prophet of the Most High.
You can find numerous references to "the prophet" in the journals and writings of the Utah Saints, and even repeatedly in the Deseret News up through the turn of the century. And every time that term was used, it almost never referred to the current Church president, whoever that might have been. When "the prophet" was spoken of, it was in reference to Joseph Smith the martyr, and him alone.
I think where I part ways with my cousin is that although I believe Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet, seer, and revelator, I am no longer convinced the same can be said of the men who currently manage the affairs of the LDS Church. And I think my reasoning on this is sound.
If the Lord intends for us to revere these men the way we revere our founding prophet, shouldn't we be able to arrive at a testimony of them the same way we came to know of Joseph Smith's divine calling? Should we not, for instance, be able to fairly demonstrate that Thomas Monson has been anointed prophet, seer, and revelator by utilizing the same means and criteria that brought us to the knowledge that Joseph Smith was?
Solving The Prophet Puzzle
Every missionary in my day was familiar with a talk by apostle Hugh B. Brown, "Profile of a Prophet." In this recorded talk, Elder Brown outlines the historic and scriptural criteria by which any of us should be able to recognize the appearance of a true prophet of God. It is a powerful and convincing talk, and at only 25 minutes long, well worth your time. You can listen to it here.
For the sake of brevity, I'll list the following characteristics Elder Brown outlines that should be evident in any man who purports to be a prophet of God:
1. He will boldly claim that God had spoken to him.
2. Any man so claiming would be a dignified man with a dignified message—no table jumping, no whisperings from the dead, no clairvoyance, but an intelligent statement of truth.
3. Any man claiming to be a prophet of God would declare his message without any fear and without making any weak concessions to public opinion.
4. If he were speaking for God he could not make concessions, although what he taught would be new and contrary to the accepted teachings of the day. A prophet bears witness to what he has seen and heard and seldom tries to make a case by argument. His message and not himself is important.
5. Such a man would speak in the name of the Lord, saying, “Thus said the Lord,” as did Moses, Joshua, and others.
6. Such a man would predict future events in the name of the Lord, and they would come to pass, as did those predicted by Isaiah and Ezekiel.
7. He would have not only an important message for his time but often a message for all future time, such as Daniel, Jeremiah, and others had.
8. He would have courage and faith enough to endure persecution and to give his life, if need be, for the cause he espoused, such as Peter, James, Paul, and others did.
9. Such a man would denounce wickedness fearlessly. He would generally be rejected or persecuted by the people of his time, but later generations and descendants of his persecutors would build monuments in his honor.
10. He would be able to do superhuman things—things that no man could do without God’s help. The consequence or result of his message and work would be convincing evidence of his prophetic calling: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).
11. His teachings would be in strict conformity with scripture, and his words and his writings would become scripture. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).Elder Brown's impressive outline had a great deal to do with my acquiring a testimony of Joseph Smith's divine calling. But that was not the only way I arrived at my testimony. I found ample evidence that Joseph Smith was called of God, because God himself acknowledged it. Here's one of the first revelations from the Lord signifying He had selected Joseph Smith to accomplish His purposes:
"Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord." (D&C 3:9)Now, a cynic might conclude that since it was Joseph Smith himself who wrote those words, Joseph Smith could have been the one making the claim. Only a fool, it might be said, would accept that statement at face value.
Well, I may be a cynic and a fool, but I also like to think I'm a seeker of truth. So I did what we are all commanded to do, and took that statement and others like it directly to the Lord for confirmation. What I received in answer to my prayers was a witness of the spirit that those words indeed came from the mouth of the Lord. Joseph Smith, I was assured, was indeed called of God to do God's work.
We are charged in scripture not to take any man's statement at face value, no matter his rank or title. We are instructed to examine every single utterance that claims to have come from the Lord, then take that utterance to the Lord in prayer to get a witness through the Holy Ghost that the message did indeed come from Him.
We rarely do that. We have gotten lazy, preferring to believe that our leaders somehow are incapable of leading us astray, even though the Lord has never given us that assurance, but has constantly warned us otherwise. Believing without question what management tells us is just so much easier than actually inquiring of the Lord.
Our great failure as a people is that more often than not, once we receive divine confirmation that the Book of Mormon is true, we tend to accept everything else that is preached from the pulpit without thinking, even things that are taught that are contrary to what the Book of Mormon itself is trying to tell us.
The apostle Paul directs us to "prove all things," then "hold fast to that which is good." The word "prove" means to test a thing, to evince by examination. The LDS Church in the 21st century seems to have formally abandoned that instruction. Indeed, the very act of testing, examining, or questioning certain teachings or practices within the Church in our day is deemed grounds for Church discipline, and even expulsion, according to the Church Handbook of Instruction. (Vol 1, pg 57; see also Jensen, Modern Apostasy, 2014.)
Taking It To The Source
Some years ago I came to the realization that not everything I was taught growing up about my religion was entirely reliable. Some of it was error mixed in with truth.
So in an effort to separate truth from falsehood, I realized I would have to set aside my entire system of fixed beliefs, and start over from scratch. So over time, as I re-read the revelations in the Doctrine & Covenants given to us through Joseph Smith, I made certain that each and every one of them was accurate. And I did so by asking God directly, "did you say this?"
And each time I asked I got a clear witness. Yes, those words were the very oracles of God.
Here are a few more verses affirming Joseph's role as God's mouthpiece in these last days. I asked about each one, and got the same affirmation:
"I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments." (D&C 1:17)
"Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ." (D&C 21:1)
"Thou wast called and chosen to write the Book of Mormon, and to my ministry...And thou shalt continue in calling upon God in my name, and writing the things which shall be given thee by the Comforter, and expounding all scriptures unto the church." (D&C 24:1,5)
"No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses." (D&C 28:2)Then there was this revelation given to the members of the church in 1830, which I found most instructive:
"Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth..." (D&C 21:4&5)I noted that members of the church back then were not told to follow or obey the counsel of the prophet, as I was being taught to do in regards to the president of the Church in my day. This revelation says we shall "give heed to all his words." To "heed" means to give consideration to, give careful attention, to examine and ponder.
Quite a far cry from unquestioning obedience.
Something else I noticed in that revelation: we are not instructed to accept everything Joseph Smith ever said as if it were gospel. Only those words he speaks as he receives them from The Lord. It is only those words that come "as if from mine own mouth" that we are commanded to give heed to. While it is true that Joseph Smith, having seen and conversed with Jesus Christ and the Father, doubtless came away from that experience brimming with wisdom and insight; and while Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet personally ordained by God, not every utterance that ever came out of his mouth is to be accepted ex cathedra. Only those words he delivers as coming from the mouth of God are considered doctrinal. Which brings us to...
The Grand Daddy Of All Scriptures
All of us have our favorite scriptures. For most of us it's a direct quote from Jesus Christ, as well it should be. But there is one chapter in the Book of Mormon that we ought to take as our guide before we consider any other teaching of the Church, and that is 1st Nephi Chapter 8.
This is the chapter that teaches us that the only sure path to God is by holding to the rod of iron, the symbolic guardrail that represents the word of God. Therefore, nothing we read in our Sunday School manuals, nothing we're taught in Church, nothing we hear in general conference, is allowed to trump the actual word of God. Only our Lord's actual words as revealed through His prophets are the words we should be clinging to; anything not measuring up to the word of God fails the iron rod test.
When we're trying to figure out whether some man's word is to be taken as God's will, it's not enough to simply rely upon what we were taught growing up in the church. We have to go to the source, and that source is the revealed word of God. Harold B. Lee, himself a former president of the church, delineated what he thought was the biggest danger facing the LDS church in modern times:
"I say we need to teach our people to find their answers in the scriptures. If only each of us would be wise enough to say that we aren't able to answer any question unless we can find a doctrinal answer in the scriptures! And if we hear someone teaching something that is contrary to what is in the scriptures, each of us may know whether the things spoken are false -it is as simple as that. But the unfortunate thing is that so many of us are not reading the scriptures. We do not know what is in them, and therefore we speculate about the things that we ought to have found in the scriptures themselves. I think therein is one of our biggest dangers of today."
"The Lord has given us in the standard works the means by which we should measure truth and untruth. May we all heed His word: 'Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church.' " D&C 42:59 (First Presidency Message, Ensign, December 1972. Emphasis mine.)So, are we to simply allow men in leadership positions to govern the church of Christ according to the policies and procedures they institute on their own? Or are they required to govern the church only in accordance with the instructions promulgated by God? We latter-day Saints have a sacred duty to make an important determination, and this determination should be made carefully and prayerfully: whether the men who succeeded Joseph Smith actually are his successors as authorized by God, or if they are there only because our vain traditions call for them to be.
The way to get to the nub of it all is to seek God's word in the matter. It is not enough to simply accept the next guy in line as though he were appointed by God. We should insist on seeing evidence of that appointment.
I had just begun to question my faith in church succession some years back, when Gordon B. Hinckley was president. In March of 2003, the president of the United States launched an invasion of a foreign country that had done us no harm, in violation not only of the constitution's separation of powers, but also in direct violation of the words of Jesus Christ, who declared in D&C 98:33 that his people "should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them."
So I was looking forward to general conference three weeks later. We were finally going to hear an actual prophet of God lay into the civil authorities for an act of aggression every bit as unwarranted as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or the German Blitzkrieg on Poland. This should be worth tuning in to!
But when conference arrived and president Hinckley finally got around to addressing this topic at the final session, it was clear he wasn't going to act anything like a true Old Testament prophet speaking old fashioned truth to power. In fact, he admitted he didn't know what to think about this current war, but he was sure the whole thing would be over in a few short weeks. It was the most wishy-washy, non-committal, unprincipled, and uninformed pile of nothing I had ever heard come out of the mouth of a reputed prophet of God in my life. Caught me completely by surprise.
Hinckley did offer one pertinent quote from Jesus,where the Lord commanded his people to "renounce war and proclaim peace." Then he spent the rest of his talk with a metaphoric shrug as if to say, "But hey, whatcha gonna do?"
Thus began my first crisis of faith in modern Church leadership. So I went to the Lord to ask the question it had never occurred to me to ask before: is Gordon B. Hinckley your appointed mouthpiece on the earth?
I don't want to put words in God's mouth, because he didn't answer me with an audible voice. But if I were to reconstruct the conversation in English, it might have gone something like this:
"Is Gordon B. Hinckley your anointed prophet, seer, and revelator?"
Show me some of Gordon's prophecies and revelations and I'll give you my answer.
"But he has never issued any prophecies or revelations."
Well then, there's your answer.
Follow the Whosit?
A while back, when re-reading 1st Nephi 8, I noticed something I had only glossed over in previous readings, then instantly forgotten. The prophet Lehi was describing a dream in which he found himself in a dark and dreary wilderness. Suddenly a well-dressed, important looking man appeared and bade him follow. Lehi would be rescued from the darkness, for surely this impressive figure -a man of God if ever there was one- would lead Lehi back into the light.
But Lehi soon discovered it had been a mistake to follow this man, for he was only led further into the dark and dreary wasteland. Lehi found himself lost "for the space of many hours," until it occurred to him to call on God directly. Only then was Lehi brought into the light. Now he could see many things clearly, among them that rod of iron along the straight pathway to God's pure love. Lehi realized that the only sure path to God was not by putting his trust in any man, but instead to cling tenaciously to the word of God.
As a devout believer in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I can think of no more pertinent question in our day than to assess whether we are doing the Lord's will in following certain men, or if we are being misled. Even Joseph Smith himself lamented that the people were depending so much on him that they were becoming "darkened in their minds." (Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, pg 51). If the prophet would issue such a warning to the people in his day to back off, why are so many Mormons so anxious to ignore that advice when it comes to Church leaders today?
Brigham Young said something interesting:
"Perhaps it may make some of you stumble, were I to ask you a question—Does a man’s being a Prophet in this Church prove that he shall be the President of it? I answer, no! A man may be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and it may have nothing to do with his being the president of the Church. Suffice it to say, that Joseph was the president of the Church, as long as he lived: the people chose to have it so. He always filled that responsible station by the voice of the people. Can you find any revelation appointing him the President of the Church? The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph, to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not to be taken from him in time or in eternity; but when he was called to preside over the Church, it was by the voice of the people; though he held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice.” (Journal of Discourses 1:133 Emphasis added.)Joseph Smith was appointed by the Lord to be the Lord's mouthpiece. It so happened that Joseph was also elected by the people to preside over the fledgling church. Each of those positions is not the same as the other. Joseph just happened to have worn both hats back in the day; at various times acting as either prophet and/or president.
But it could have easily been the case that while Joseph acted as the mouthpiece of the Lord, some other person -Hyrum Smith, for example, or Sidney Rigdon- could have been elected by the members and sustained as president of the church at the same time Joseph Smith was their prophet.
So the thing we deserve to come to an understanding of in our day is this: how can we know if the president of the church also happens to be a prophet?
How About We Ask The Same Questions?
Obviously, to get an answer to our question we would use the same criteria we used when we came to a knowledge that Joseph Smith was ordained to be God's mouthpiece. We might first compare the current president to the list of qualifications apostle Brown taught would be recognizable in a prophet. Secondly, we would look for instances where the Lord has declared the modern president to be his mouthpiece, as he did numerous times in regard to Joseph Smith.
Trouble is, we can find no instance where Thomas S. Monson has boldly made the claim that God has spoken to him. Neither has he declared he has received any messages "in the name of the Lord." Neither has president Monson predicted future events, or endured persecution, or met any number of the qualifications recognizable in a true prophet outlined by Apostle Hugh B. Brown above.
Where do we find God's endorsement of Thomas Monson similar to the one given regarding Joseph Smith? We have no statement from the Lord telling us to "give heed unto all Monson's words and commandments which he shall give unto you, for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth."
I looked for such an endorsement of President Hinckley, and those who came before him. And then when I got to Heber J. Grant, I read this bombshell from a letter President Grant had written to a Mrs. Claud Peery in 1926:
"I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith."Wait...WHAT?! I was always taught that the living prophet met with Jesus face to face on a regular basis in the upper room of the temple. And now here's one of those prophets admitting that not only has he never met or spoken to Jesus, but nobody he knows ever has either!
I felt maybe the thing to do was track this all the way back to Brigham Young. Seeing as how Brigham was Joseph Smith's BFF, surely he had the authority to speak for God, and maybe at least I would learn that authority was somehow handed off to those who came after.
The Trail Dead Ends
It turns out, though, that Brigham Young wasn't really all that close to Joseph Smith, for the simple reason they didn't spent much time together. Joseph lived in Nauvoo, while Brigham was constantly off laboring in the Eastern States and Great Britain.
We have this idea that Brigham Young was Joseph's second in command, but the records don't support that. He wasn't a member of the First Presidency. The minutes of the Nauvoo High Council don't show him in attendance because he was not a member of that body. His association to Joseph Smith, to the extent it was significant at all, was in company with others, not the two of them alone. There were plenty of other men who had a closer association to Joseph Smith than Brigham Young did. Plenty of others.
The myth that Brigham Young and Joseph Smith were best buds was fostered by Brigham in the decades following Joseph's death, and developed over time into the official Church narrative.
|"Say Joseph, do you mind if we get a selfie so I can prove I met you once?"|
"I don't profess to be such a Prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel." (Journal of Discourses 5:77)Like all Latter-day Saints at the time, Brigham expected that one day Joseph Smith's eldest son would take the reins of church leadership. Until then, Brigham would act as a sort of placeholder:
"What of Joseph Smith's family? What of his boys? I have prayed from the beginning for sister Emma and for the whole family. There is not a man in this Church that has entertained better feelings towards them. Joseph said to me, “God will take care of my children when I am taken.” They are in the hands of God, and when they make their appearance before this people, full of his power, there are none but what will say—“Amen! We are ready to receive you."Brigham Young had been president of the church for 13 years when he made the following statement in 1860:
"The brethren testify that brother Brigham is brother Joseph's legal successor. You never heard me say so. I say that I am a good hand to keep the dogs and wolves out of the flock. I do not care a groat who rises up. I do not think anything about being Joseph's successor." (Journal of Discourses 8:69).Someone "to keep the dogs and wolves out of the flock" is exactly what Brigham proposed to be when he went before the assembly that day in August just weeks after Joseph and his brother were murdered. He indicated there would be no prophet to replace the one who had fallen.
"Heretofore you have had a prophet as the mouthpiece of the Lord to speak to you. But he has sealed his testimony with his blood, and now, for the first time, are you called to walk by faith, and not by sight." (Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, (1844, pg 20)
"I ask the latter-day Saints: do you, as individuals, at this time, want to choose a prophet or a guardian? Inasmuch as our Prophet and our Patriarch are taken from our midst, do you want someone to guard, to guide and lead you through this world into the kingdom of God or not?"Brigham was attempting to persuade the crowd to reject Sidney Rigdon, the only member of the First Presidency left alive. But if he was hoping to be elected to the top position himself, he was talking them out of choosing him, too.
"All that want some person to be a guardian or a prophet, a spokesman or something else, signify it by raising the right hand."They must have been confused by the way he worded the question, because the record states no hands were raised.
Brigham ended up suggesting that the best choice for governing the church would be to turn it over to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, acting together as a body. Not one man in particular, mind you, but the whole Twelve would make all the governing decisions as a group. So that's the plan the congregation voted to accept.
Three years later, Brigham persuaded the saints assembled at Winter Quarters to elect him as president of the Church, which they did. Mind you, they did not anoint him their prophet, seer, and revelator. Brigham himself had told them, "You cannot fill the office of a prophet, seer, or revelator. God must do this."
The people never did consider Brigham Young to be prophet, seer, and revelator for the church as was Joseph Smith. They sustained him as their president, the guy whose job it was to preside over the church, not receive revelations for it.
Fast forward thirty years to Brigham Young's death, and now the Twelve are convened to decide what to do next. Brigham had ruled the church with such an iron hand, that once he was gone John Taylor convened the Twelve and said (I'm paraphrasing), "Let's not do that again. From now on, let's all twelve of us be the governing body as originally proposed so as not to risk having another dictator."
And that's what they did. For three years, the Church was run by a twelve-man board of directors, with no president at its head. And then John Taylor decided maybe he would like to try his hand at presiding after all, so he got the Twelve to go along with him and at conference the people were asked to sustain him as their president. Not their prophet, just church president.
In the Spring 2014 issue of the Journal of Mormon History, historian Edward Leo Lyman has documented the slap-dash, make-it-up-as-they-went methods by which the Quorum tried to figure out who should be the next in charge every time one of them shuffled off his mortal coil. (See Succession By Seniority: The Development of Procedural Precedents in the LDS Church).
The way the apostles struggled to work things out over each series of "crises" makes for some fascinating reading. There was still no one in the church hierarchy operating as Joseph Smith had, receiving revelations from God, so they didn't know how they were supposed to handle things. The minutes of the meetings of the Quorum in those days show a lot of debate, infighting, alliances, and jockeying for position. About the only thing the Brethren were ever united on was their agreement that none of them wanted to see George Q. Cannon become president. He was almost universally disliked by his fellow apostles.
By the 20th century, a popular narrative had taken hold in the church to the effect that ever since the death of Joseph Smith, there has always been "a living prophet" at the head of the church to guide us and instruct us in God's will. Nothing could be further from the truth. None of these supposed "prophets" ever conveyed a direct revelation to the members from which the saints could ascertain the will of God. Check your Doctrine & Covenants and you'll see. The oracles simply peter out once Brother Joseph exits the scene.
There is one more loose thread to this story. The "preferred narrative" most of us were taught growing up in the church states that before he died, Joseph Smith anointed the Twelve apostles to succeed him, and that he turned over to them all the keys and authority to act in the name of God. That part of our history isn't true either. But it makes an interesting tale.
So sit back and get comfy; we're not done yet.
Who Needs Checks And Balances In The Lord's True Church?
LDS Church tradition claims the “Twelve” were given all the “keys” (whatever that is) by Joseph Smith to control everything. This is said to have taken place in a meeting that was held on March 26, 1844. This claim is contrary to scripture, but has not stopped LDS leaders from insisting it is how the Twelve Apostles came to be in charge of everything “Mormon.”
I say it is contrary to scripture because the great revelation on priesthood (D&C 107) expressly limits the jurisdiction of the Twelve. Jesus Christ Himself, through revelation to his prophet, directed that the governing bodies of the church are to be co-equal in authority, in order that no single entity encroaches on the responsibilities and commissions of another.
If you were to list them in order of importance of governing authority (and we shouldn't, because the Lord set them up to be co-equal branches), the list might look like this:
The First Presidency
The High Council
The Quorum of the Seventy
The Quorum of Twelve Apostles
The apostles would probably be last, because they had no governing authority within the church. Most of the time they weren't anywhere near Church headquarters, because the common name for the Twelve Apostles was the "Traveling Elders." These were the missionaries sent out to all the world to spread the gospel. They were only home occasionally before going back out again. The High Council, headquartered at Nauvoo, did most of the governing within the church, handling the day-to-day administrative affairs of the church.
You may have noticed there is no High Council operating at Church headquarters anymore. That office simply disappeared once Brigham Young took charge of things. Like it never existed.
Under the Lord's plan, the Twelve have no authority within any organized stake. They are co-equal with the other bodies, but with very limited jurisdiction. Yet the Twelve today claim they get to own, control, operate and dictate to all other bodies and to every part of the church, both inside and outside organized stakes. All this because of a meeting that took place on March 26, 1844.
Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, p. 45.)
The thing is, this council was not a part of the church. It operated outside the church; independent of it. And that's because it included both members of the church and non-members.
It is important to recognize that the kingdom of God was not the church, and the Council of Fifty was not part of the church. It was separate. It was not a religious society like the church, but a civil organization newly organized in 1844 as a first step toward Joseph Smith's vision of an eventual civil and political “kingdom” belonging to God. Its intended purpose was to ensure that the rights of all people were protected, regardless of one's beliefs or religious affiliation. (I go into greater detail on the purposes of the Kingdom of God in a previous post.)
Although the Council of Fifty kept minutes, the March 26, 1844 minutes make no mention of the Twelve getting to control everything, or getting any “keys” from Joseph Smith that day. In fact, there is nothing in the minutes to support the claims of the LDS Church that the Twelve were superior to every other church body, and in possession of all the “keys” (whatever that means).
Because the minutes do not support the claims, the LDS Church Historian’s Office wrote an introduction and provided footnotes for the minutes of the 26 March 1844 meeting. The Historian’s Office thinks that is most likely the probable meeting when the “keys” were passed along.
Their introduction begins on page 62, and the minutes run through page 72 of the volume titled Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records. If it were not for the Historian’s Office interjecting the claim into their introduction and footnotes, there would be nothing in the minutes of the meeting to support the claim that the Twelve got all the “keys” from Joseph Smith to run everything on that day.
Essentially the Historian’s Office explains that missing proof does not prove it didn’t happen.
If it did happen as the LDS Church claims, it is a pretty significant omission. But the omission from March 1844 is not the only proof that this important event did not happen. The story about “keys” got mentioned the following year, in minutes that should lay the LDS Church's claims to rest.
The minutes of 25 March 1845 of the Council of Fifty meeting has an introduction written by the LDS Historian’s Office that attempts to support the traditional story thus:
"Orson Hyde read to the council a two-page statement that he hoped to publish as part of his pamphlet on a 'farewell to Rigdonism.' The document concerned JS’s 'appointing the Twelve to take the responsibility of leading the church,' an event that likely occurred at a Council of Fifty meeting on 26 March 1844, and Hyde asked how many council members had been present on that occasion and could sign the document as witnesses. Rather than taking up Hyde’s question, the council briefly considered the content of Hyde’s account. After discussion, Young denied Hyde’s request to publish the document and instead instructed him to focus on Rigdonism in his pamphlet 'and let the Twelve alone.' " (Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, p. 371.)This introduction is not really a fair account of what happened in the meeting or what was in the minutes. Here is what the minutes of that meeting say when it is mentioned the first time early in the meeting:
Coun. O. Hyde wanted information as to who were here to day who were present Joseph Smith laid the responsibility of leading the church on the Twelve.
The chairman said E[lde]r Hyde would have to lay that matter over a little. (Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, p. 375.)The reference to “The chairman” is to Brigham Young. There follows three pages of notes before the discussion returns to Hyde’s topic. Here is what the minutes say when Hyde’s topic is discussed later in the same meeting:
Coun. Hyde read a certificate which he had wrote for publication concerning prest Joseph Smith appointing the Twelve to take the responsibility of leading the church.
Coun. J. Young moved that the last expression in the article, “so help us God” be left out.
Coun. Hyde said he had wrote this article and submitted it to this council to find out how many of those here were present at the time it was done, and who can sign it as witnesses.
Coun. O. Pratt was present when observations similar to those in the document were made by prest Smith; but would it not be carrying an idea abroad that this was the commencement of the authority of the Twelve. They had the same authority before the time referred to in the document. He should have no objections to the article going forth if the proper date of the authority and appointment was stated.
Coun. Hyde gave further reasons why he had wrote the article and requested its publication.
The chairman said he should not want the article to go into the history of [Sidney] Rigdon at all. He wants Er Hyde to write his farewell to Rigdonism and let the Twelve alone. He dont [care] whether the world know the authority and power of the Twelve or not, when the time comes they shall feel our power and we shall not try to prove it to them. In regard to Joseph’s remarks, he did not mention anything about the anointing; he said it was this council of fifty which had to bear the responsibility of establishing the kingdom in all the world." (Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, pp. 378- 380.)
In his statement Young apparently was not affirming that no anointing occurred but clarifying that JS did not perform such an anointing in the late March 1844 meeting of the Council of Fifty. There is no evidence that any ordinance, ordination, or anointing occurred in any meeting of the Council of Fifty; (Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, p. 380, footnote 598.)
According to the LDS Historian’s Office, there was no ordinance passing the “keys of the kingdom” to the Twelve in the Council of Fifty! Nor was there an ordination passing the “keys of the kingdom” to the Twelve in the Council of Fifty! Nor any sort of anointing passing the “keys” to the Twelve!
But the official tradition in the church today remains. The Twelve somehow got the “keys” in a meeting of the Council of Fifty sans ordinance, sans ordination, and sans anointing.
"A significant event likely occurred in this meeting, probably in the morning session, about which the minutes are silent but which council members discussed a year later in connection with a written summary prepared by Orson Hyde. Clayton’s brief note that JS spoke “on heavenly things, and many other important subjects” likely marks what was later referred to as JS’s “last charge.” This may have been an extension of the charge relating the history, purpose, and rules of the council that was typically given to new members and that JS may have delivered in this meeting. (Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, pp. 62-63. Emphasis mine.)That's a generous passel of "likely"s, "probably"s, and "may have"s in a paragraph ostensibly written by professional historians.
I'm accustomed to reading raw historical data just as it stands. And when a historian deigns to describe a document to me, I expect him to stick to what is actually in the document he's describing, without speculating and forcing the data to conform to what he wants it to say.
But because traditions of men now dictate that Joseph Smith must have turned over his authority to the traveling elders at some point in history; and because these particular court historians depend upon the corporate Church for their salaries and their pensions, they have apparently decided that this is the moment the invisible transfer of power must have taken place. They chose this moment in history to put words in the mouth of a true prophet of God, so that future "prophets" would have some officially sanctioned event to hang their hats on when declaring their authority to act in God's name. In the opinion of these company men, that meeting in 1844 simply had to be the time and place where Joseph Smith turned over all his authority to the Twelve. It just had to be!
Yet there is absolutely no indication in the record that anything of the sort ever took place.
Would you like to see what Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal on this most momentous occasion, when the prophet of the Restoration reportedly rolled off all his authority onto the shoulders of Woodruff and his pals in the Quorum? The usually loquacious Woodruff apparently hadn't seen anything notable take place that day:
"26th A rainey day. I met in council with the brethren."The Lord's Version
(Wilford Woodruff's Journal, Vol. 2, pg. 371, see also The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History, pg 34)
We do have a record of the Lord appointing someone other than Joseph Smith to be a prophet, seer, and revelator to the church, and that was Joseph's brother, Hyrum. Hear the words of the Lord in this instance:
"And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph." D&C 124:94)
"I give unto you my servant Brigham Young to be a president over the Twelve traveling council."And that's it. That is the only calling Brigham Young ever received by the voice of the Lord: director of the missionary program.
This convoluted megillah showing how Joseph is imagined to have given the Twelve full authority to run the whole shebang is more than a bit of a stretch. Note the historian's obscure reference to Joseph Smith's "last charge" to the Twelve, a "charge" that no one has seen in writing, and that is now imagined to maybe be the "charge" Joseph "may have delivered in this particular meeting."
So now “keys” are given by a “charge” to someone? In scripture, normally a “charge” is either an accusation or a warning. For example, as an accusation: I charge you with murder. (See, e.g., Numbers 5:21; Acts 23:29; 1 Tim. 5:16; D&C 121:11.)
As a warning: I charge you to stay away from Sodom or be killed. (See, e.g., Gen. 28:1; Exo. 19:21; Mark 7:36; Acts 16:23; Alma 35:16.)
If the LDS Historian’s office admits Joseph “charged” the Twelve, but did not give an “ordinance, ordination, or anointing” then how was he charging them? Was he warning them? Or was Joseph accusing them? Either of these would not empower the Twelve, but would caution/accuse them against wrecking the “kingdom”—something which has happened.
If you want to read a good example of Joseph Smith giving Church leaders a "charge," turn to section four in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is the section discussed in my last post on this forum. There the prophet goes on for eight pages charging members of the Twelve not to exalt themselves as had the fallen leaders these men were now replacing. He charged them to be humble; to not betray God, to not betray the church, to not betray their brethren; he charged them to be careful. That is the kind of thing we are used to reading whenever Joseph Smith issued a "charge" to the brethren.
This is how Denver Snuffer explained the death of the Council of Fifty and the “kingdom of God” in a post on October 18, 2016:
"The “kingdom of God” is not the LDS Church and the LDS Church is not the “kingdom of God.” They are separate.
'Joseph Smith stated that the 'literal kingdom of God [that is, the Council of Fifty], and the church of God are two distinct things' as 'the laws of the kingdom are not designed to affect our salvation hereafter.' (Joseph Smith Papers Administrative Records, p. xxiii.)"So if Joseph rolled the 'kingdom of God' off his shoulders and onto the Twelve, it has nothing to do with giving the Twelve jurisdiction to assume complete autocratic control over the church. There was already a revelation in place (D&C 107) that confirmed the role of the Twelve in the church to co-equality with the seventy, stake high councils, and gave them no jurisdiction within an organized stake. The assertion that the charge allowed them expanded jurisdiction contrary to, and in violation of Section 107 is not justified when the 'kingdom of God' and the church are two separate things. The 'kingdom of God' is 'not designed to affect our salvation' and therefore did not, indeed cannot, subjugate the church.
"Further, even if you accept the charge given to the Twelve, rolled to them the 'kingdom of God,' they abandoned it:
'The final meetings of the council were held in the mid-1880s. Thereafter the council’s records appear to have remained in the custody of the Office of the First Presidency. In 1922 church president Heber J. Grant reportedly entrusted Joseph Anderson, who served as secretary to Grant and the First Presidency, to safeguard the records. In 1932 Grant and Franklin S. Richards–the last two living members of the council–met together and read through some of the Council of Fifty records. The minutes were also accessed in the late twentieth century. In 2010 the First Presidency transferred the Nauvoo-era record to the Church History Library.' (Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, p. 6.)
"Thus died the 'kingdom of God' which Joseph Smith probably may have charged the Twelve to possess. They neglected the 'kingdom of God' because they were preoccupied with acquiring complete, unfettered control to dictate over the church and hold at defiance any who dared to challenge them. They reign over the Seventies and stake high councils with impunity. Their autocratic control holds the approximate 30% of those who remain nominally active in the church in complete submission.
"They have the 'keys of the kingdom'–which kingdom has lapsed into complete oblivion. But they’ve parlayed that into dictatorship over the other organization, the Church."