Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism
by Dan Vogel

Chapter 5
The Restoration

[p.97]Perhaps because early Mormons and Seekers more or less agreed about the definition of apostasy, they also shared a sense of how radical the “restoration” of Christianity had to be. They differed in this from other Primitivists, who also looked forward to a restoration1 and distinguished between restoration and reformation,2 but still had a desire to reform only the outward form of the church rather than to restore lost authority and spiritual gifts, including new revelation.

The Seekers awaited a more radical restoration. However, in this expectation the two types of Seekers differed somewhat. Literalistic Seekers were waiting for the restoration of a physical church, spiritualistic Seekers a spiritual one. The latter believed that neither an external church nor ordinances was necessary and therefore anticipated the restoration of authority through some kind of Pentecost.3 Some spiritualistic Seekers gathered with the Quakers, who seemed to fulfill pentecostal expectations.4 Others such as Erastus Hanchett continued their search for the invisible church.5

In 1823 Asa Wild received a revelation in which the Lord told him that the Millennium would be preceded by a restoration of a physical church, including “the raising up, and sending forth of those persons who are to be the instruments of diffusing the pure light of the gospel;—eradicating darkness, and error; and bringing forth the church from obscurity.”6 “At first, their success will be somewhat gradual; but as omnipotence is engaged on their side, the kingdom of satan and anti-christ will shortly receive its fatal wound, and suddenly fall with a most tremendous crash.”7 Further, the Lord told Wild “that he had raised up, and was now raising up, that class of persons signified by the Angel mentioned by the Revelator, XIV. 6, 7, which flew in the midst of [p.98]heaven; having the everlasting gospel to preach: that these persons are of an inferior class, and small learning: that they will be rejected by every denomination as a body; but soon, God will open their way, by miracles, judgments, &c.”8

Literalistic Seekers were uncertain about the nature of authority and how it would be restored. Some also looked for a new endowment, much like the Pentecost, to reestablish Jesus’ church. But others, especially those who accepted the Catholic concept of apostolic succession, awaited the restoration of authority through angelic ministration. For example, in his 1647 description of the literalistic Seekers, John Saltmarsh wrote that “they wait in this time of apostasy. . . as the apostles and disciples at Jerusalem, till they were endued with power from on high. . . . They wait for an apostle or angel.”9 Despite this uncertainty, all Seekers agreed that the restoration would be accompanied by an outward show of authority—through gifts and miracles.

The debate over authority went back to the beginnings of the Reformation. By necessity the reformers had discarded the Catholic concept of a lineal-legal priesthood, replaced it with the doctrine of an equal priesthood of all believers, and stressed inner calling as the qualification for the ministry. Because the legitimacy of medieval European government was so closely tied to the church, the broadening of the notion of religious authority occasioned intense unease. But as old institutionalized forms of authority gradually disintegrated and new individualistic forms of internalized authority emerged, Seekerism flourished. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries produced a greater variety of possible answers to the question of religious authority than any earlier period.10

The debate among Seekers regarding authority was documented in the writings of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others who were both observers and sometimes participants in the controversy. In 1646, for example, John Saltmarsh wrote in Groanes for Liberty that the Seekers “find that the power was first given to the Apostles with gifts, and from them to others, and they [the Seekers] dare not take it from Antichrist and the Bishops [of Rome], as the Reformed Kingdoms generally take it, nor from the Churches [of the Separatists], because they find no such power begun from the Churches.”11 Robert Bayllie wrote in 1647 that the Seekers believed that the ordinances should not be observed nor new churches established “til Elias [Elijah] and new apostles come to kill the Antichrist, and reform these anti-Christian [p.99]abuses.”12 Richard Baxter, a moderate Presbyterian, accused Seekers of being inspired by Rome.13 The Seekers’ “great Objection,” wrote Baxter in 1657, “is that we have not an uninterrupted succession from the Apostles, and so those that ordained us had no Power; and therefore could not give it to us.”14

Baxter argued at length that an uninterrupted succession was unnecessary since ministerial authority came through the commandment expressed through the Bible and the commission of the Holy Spirit.15 In an exchange of letters in 1653 with a “M. Johnson,” Johnson argued that such a position played into the hands of the schismatics, stating that the “Intruders upon the Ministerial Office, are very much strengthened and justified in their Schism and Usurpation, if Succession be not material. . . . But grant a Succession uninterrupted necessary, it will uncontroulably follow, that they are therefore no Ministers of Christ, because they have not been set a part by such who at length took their Authority from Christ’s own Hands.”16 Baxter then distinguished between “Succession of Office” and “Succession of Ordination to that Office,” stating that “its one thing to ask whether God’s Ordination be necessary, and another, whether Man’s be necessary.”17 He next stated that “there is no Power but of God,” arguing that “Divine Ordination is of Necessity,” but “Human Ordination” is not.18 Johnson felt that Baxter played into the hands of the Seekers and conceded their position. Baxter challenged the Seekers to “first disprove our Doctrine if they can; and not cheat the people by perswading them that our calling must first be proved.”19 The Seekers, he said, “call for miracles to prove our Ministry,”20 which Baxter felt was unreasonable and unscriptural.

For their part, Seekers simply waited “in prayer and conference, pretending to no certain determination of things, nor any infallible consequences or interpretations of Scriptures.” They became nearly transparent in history because they felt they lacked the authority to act until the arrival of “an apostle or angel, that is some with a visible glory and power able, in the Spirit, to give visible demonstration of their sending, as to the world.”21

In 1639, lawyer Thomas Lechford, who knew Roger Williams, concluded that the only true church was one in which “Apostles and Evangelists” could trace their authority by the “imposition of hands from one another, downe from the days of the Apostles.” This conclusion led him back into conformity with [p.100]the Church of England, which he believed had continued the apostolic succession.22

For Roger Williams the spiritual darkness of the ministers invalidated their ordinances. In 1643 John Cotton quoted Williams on this point. The ordinances, Williams said, are “practised by persons polluted through spirituall deadnesse and filthinesse of Communion, they [the ordinances] become uncleane unto them, and are prophaned by them.”23 “No man ever did nor ever shall truly go forth to Convert the Nations,” declared Williams in 1652, “but by the gracious Inspiration and Instigation of the holy Spirit of God. . . . I know no other True Sender, but the most Holy Spirit.”24 The absence of spiritual gifts was further evidence to Williams that the professional clergy lacked God’s authority.

‘Tis true, those glorious first ministeriall gifts are ceased, and that’s or should be the lamentation of all Saints. . . . Yet I humbly conceive that without those gifts, it is no ground of imitation, and of going forth to Teach and Baptise the Nations, for, the Apostles themselves did not attempt that mighty enterprise, but waited at Jerusalem untill the Holy Spirit descended on them, and inabled them for that mighty work.25

Asa Wild was told that God’s new ministers would “have higher authority, greater power, superior inspiration, and a greater degree of holiness, than was ever experienced before.”26

Preoccupation with ecclesiastical authority was especially evident in post-Revolutionary America. The disestablishment of the churches and the concept of separation of church and state were sources of concern to many people. Thomas Jefferson’s strong stand on the separation of church and state and his election to the presidency in 1800 had religious conservatives worried that the nation was slipping into infidelity and religious neglect. Historian William McLaughlin suggests that the social function of revivalism, which flourished during this same period, was “to provide a unifying and self-restraining code of social and personal conduct for the average man . . . to provide that internalization of authority so essential to counter-balance the destruction of external authority in our culture.”27 Mormon historian Klaus Hansen observed that “Mormonism appeared on the American religious scene at precisely that moment when external religious authority, both intellectually and institutionally, was in headlong [p.101]retreat.”28 Such an environment made the Mormon claim of restored authority all the more enticing, not just for Seekers.29

The Campbellites responded to the unstable religious situation in America by calling on the Bible for authority in religious matters. The Mormons had a different response. On 16 November 1830 the Painesville Telegraph reported that the first Mormon missionaries to arrive in Ohio claimed special authority from God, that Oliver Cowdery, in particular, “holds forth that the ordinances of the gospel have not been regularly administered since the days of the apostles till the said Smith and himself commenced the work.” Ezra Booth, an early Mormon convert from Ohio, wrote in 1831 that Mormon baptism “is similar to other orders; only it is prefaced with—’having authority given me of Jesus Christ.'”30 While the early missionaries claimed unique authority, it is not clear what kind of authority was meant or the manner by which it was obtained.

By 1837, when former Seeker Edward Partridge wrote to his sister, Emily, Mormon authority was clearly lineal. After describing the manner in which the ancient apostles conferred authority on others, Partridge explained,

There is two ways to obtain authority to build up the kingdom of God, and they are these, either direct from God, or by the laying on of the hands of those who have authority. The authority from God, I say, has been lost for ages, consequently the religious world have divided, and subdivided untill the sects have become almost innumerable. . . . Now I say, that God has set his hand the second time to recover his people;—that he has sent forth Angels, and commissioned men, once more, to build up his kingdom.31

The early Mormon understanding of restored authority evolved as the events of the restoration unfolded. Because the earliest Mormon concept of apostasy held that the ancient church lost God’s authority when his spirit withdrew because of unbelief, the earliest Mormons conceived of restoration as a return of God’s spirit. Thus Joseph Smith and the early church placed greater emphasis on the charismatic, or spiritual, nature of restored authority than on its lineal or legal aspects. The exercise of authority in the church derived from the operation of the Holy Spirit rather than exclusively from ordination or as a function of church office.32 Only gradually did Mormonism’s description of apostasy, restoration, and authority become clearly lineal-legal. In addition, the concepts of “two orders of priesthood” and “lineal priesthood” [p.102]were not introduced into Mormonism until after its founding.33 Joseph Smith, like other Seekers, seems to have been uncertain about the nature of the authority he had received and awaited further clarification through revelation.

Indeed, nothing in the Book of Mormon stipulates a lineal-legal notion of authority. The Book of Mormon’s description of the apostasy did not include the charge that the latter-day clergy lacked priesthood authority. Rather, it indicted them with religious hypocrisy and spiritual poverty. Similarly, the Book of Mormon’s description of the restoration included no promise of the return of priesthood authority but rather of spiritual renewal. The source of authority in the Book of Mormon is charismatic—ministers are to ordain and baptize by the power of the Holy Ghost. Ordination by the laying on of hands is practiced, but lineal succession is never emphasized.34 The text of the Book of Mormon through 3 Nephi implies the possibility of a non-angelic restoration of authority.

Baptism and ordination are first mentioned in the Book of Mormon when Alma establishes “the church of Christ” in the wilderness near the “waters of Mormon.” Alma, one of the “priests” of the wicked king Noah, had heard Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi’s last sermon before his martyrdom and was converted. Alma and other believers flee into the wilderness, where Alma preaches the gospel as he heard it from Abinadi and invites listeners to be “baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before [God] that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments” (Mos. 18:10). Alma then takes Helam into the water, saying: “O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart” (18:12). After this, “the Spirit of the Lord was upon him,” and he says, “Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world” (18:13). Having said this, Alma immerses himself and Helam in the water at the same time (18:14-15). Alma also baptizes others but does not immerse himself.35 He is the only one to baptize, although he ordains others “to preach unto [the people], and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (18:18). And “none received authority to preach or to teach except it were [p.103]by him [Alma] from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers” (23:17). Thus even the legal claim of authority of the priests and teachers ultimately rested on Alma’s charismatic reception of authority. Without benefit of foresight, Smith and Cowdery could have interpreted this as a description of one way in which the authority to baptize could be restored and the true church reestablished.

Shortly after the departure of Alma’s group, the people rebel against King Noah and put his more righteous son Limhi in power. When Ammon comes upon the people of Limhi in the city of Nephi, he learns that they “were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts” (Mos. 21:35). “But there was none in the land that had authority from God,” meaning spiritual authority like Alma’s (21:33). “And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant” (21:33). Significantly, Ammon worries about spiritual worthiness, not ordination. Limhi and his people “did not at that time form themselves into a church, waiting upon the Spirit of the Lord” (21:34).

Limhi and his people migrate en masse to the city of Zarahemla where they arrive about the same time as Alma’s group. Both groups become the subjects of King Mosiah, who allows Alma to “establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla” and to “ordain priests and teachers over every church” (Mos. 25:19). Limhi and his people come forward and Alma baptizes them (25:18), which signified their membership in the church (25:23).

Before dying, Alma “confers” the office of high priest over the church upon his son Alma (Mos. 29:42). Alma the younger reports that his father “consecrated” him “to be a high priest over the church of God” (Al. 4:20; 5:31; 13:1-19). This is the first account in the Book of Mormon of succession to church office. Alma the younger in turn “ordained priests and elders, by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church” (6:1). This is also the first instance in the Book of Mormon where laying on of hands is mentioned. Alma’s sons (at least Helaman) apparently succeed him in the office of high priest over the church, and as a result the Nephite church (unlike its Jewish counterpart) soon has more than one high priest (Al. 43:1-2; 45:20-24; 46:6, 38; 49:30; 50:38; Hel. 3:25). Helaman and his brethren also “appointed priests and teachers throughout all the land, over all the churches” (Al. 45:23). But in each case [p.104]priests and teachers receive their calls directly from charismatic leaders. The spiritual experience of such leaders, which validates their spiritual authority, is always described—not their ordination lineage.

Later, the prophet Nephi is the first in the Book of Mormon to delegate the authority to baptize.36 He “went forth among the people, and also many others, baptizing unto repentance, in the which there was a great remission of sins” (3 Ne. 1:23). Nephi also “ordained . . . men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water” (7:25). When Jesus appears in America, one of his first actions is to recommission Nephi and others to baptize: “I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven. And again the Lord called others, and said unto them likewise; and he gave unto them power to baptize” (3 Ne. 11:21- 22). The “power” to baptize is given by oral command, not physical ordination. Prior to Jesus’ appearance, baptism is “unto repentance,” but afterwards it is baptism in Jesus’ own name to distinguish between the old and new covenants.37 Nephi thus allows himself to be rebaptized before he begins baptizing others (19:10-12).

Unlike the bestowal of authority to baptize, Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Ghost through physical contact (see 3 Ne. 18:36-38). According to Moroni, when Jesus lays hands on the twelve Nephite disciples, he says: “Ye shall call on the Father in my name, in mighty prayer; and after ye have done this ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost” (Moro. 2:2). Notice that this “power” comes through prayer, not by right of priesthood ordination. Authority is also passed on charismatically. Elders ordained priests and teachers “by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was in them” (Moro. 3:4).

Authority in the early Mormon church was originally patterned on a similar model of charismatic or spiritual power, not on priesthood ordination.38 When Lucy Smith wrote to her brother in 1831, she spoke of the apostasy and restoration of the gospel, but she never legitimized her son’s claims by declaring a restoration of priesthood. Even years later she made no reference to angelic ordination in her account of the restoration of authority to baptize. Instead, she reported that Joseph and Oliver Cowdery had received authority by commandment. “One morning,” she recalled, “they sat down to their work, as usual, and the first thing which presented itself through the Urim and Thummim, [p.105]was a commandment for Joseph and Oliver to repair to the water, and attend to the ordinance of Baptism. They did so . . . they had not received authority to baptize.”39 This description does not preclude angelic ordination, but even if she knew about the appearance of John the Baptist, as later told by Joseph Smith, Lucy nevertheless did not think it was an essential detail to validate her son’s new authority.

Neither did Joseph Smith’s early revelations mention angelic ordination. In June 1829, the month following their baptism, a revelation reminded Cowdery, “thou hast been baptized by the hand of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., according to that which I have commanded him, he hath fulfilled the thing which I commanded him” (D&C 18:7). When the Church of Christ was organized on 6 April 1830, Smith received a revelation declaring that he should 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, being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof” (D&C 21:1-2). “It behooveth me,” the Lord told Oliver Cowdery, through Joseph Smith, “that he [Smith] should be ordained by you, Oliver Cowdery mine apostle” (D&C 21:10). This revelation reiterated the commandment which had been previously received “in the chamber of old Father Peter Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county [New York],” which commanded Smith and Cowdery to ordain one another elders at the anticipated organization of the church.40

The revelation on church organization and government given in June 1830 also emphasized the “commandment,” stating that the church had been “regularly organized and established . . . by the will and commandments of God . . . which commandments were given to Joseph, who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of this church; and also to Oliver, who was also called of God an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of this church, and ordained under his [Joseph’s] hand” (BofC 24:2-4/ D&C 20:1-3). This document further emphasized charismatic authority, stating that church officers were to be “ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him” (D&C 20:60). One might expect that the revelation setting up church government would refer to the angelic restoration of authority. Instead, the preamble to the document mentions only the visit of Moroni, who “gave unto him [Smith] commandments which inspired him” (D&C 20:5-12). Thus the authority by which [p.106]Smith organized the Church of Christ was rooted in commandment from God and charisma.

Not only is angelic ordination absent from church records before the latter part of 1832, but early leading members made statements that they were never told of the angelic source of the authority they were given. In fact, it never occurred to them at the time that angelic ordinations were essential for the restoration of authority. David Whitmer, for example, testified: “I never heard that an angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834 5 or 6.”41 William E. McLellin, who joined the church in 1831, also wrote: “I never heard of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver. I heard not of James, Peter, and John doing so.”42 Although McLellin heard Smith tell the story of the rise of the church “probably more than twenty times” in the early days of Mormonism, McLellin said, “I never heard of . . . John, or Peter, James and John.”43 Not only did McLellin say he never heard the stories of angelic ordination, but in 1872 he argued that they never occurred: “An angel never ordained a man to any office since the world began. Then say you how did Joseph and Oliver get authority to start? I answer, that a revelation from the Lord gives a man both power and authority to do whatever it commands. The Lord commanded Joseph to baptize, confirm, and ordain Oliver, then Oliver to do the same for him. This was legal and valid.”44

Early Mormons soon faced challenges common to groups based on charismatic authority. The dangers for Mormons of such unrestrained charisma have been described by Catholic sociologist Thomas F. O’Dea:

Since the new church had been founded upon the claims of contemporary revelation, such revelation remained the basis of all its ecclesiastical authority. This meant that there were two possible paths of development open for the church. It could permit unrestrained prophecy and thereby splinter into smaller and smaller groups, finally breaking up into a Babel of private revelation. On the other hand, it could restrain prophetic gifts, restricting revelation and prophecy to one man, and develop a centrally directed organization about that one leader. Compromises between the two positions were, of course, possible but were likely to be unstable, at least until original enthusiasm had dissipated itself. If more than one strong prophetic figure claimed revelation, it is hard to see how schism could have been avoided. The ideal of left-wing [p.107]Protestantism as set forth in the Book of Mormon . . . portrayed a profusion of prophecy and a plurality of prophets, combined with the ecumenical aspiration of one church united around that prophetic authority. Such an ideal was clearly impossible in real life.45

Mormonism’s vulnerability to internal challenges based on claims of charismatic authority manifested itself early on. One of the first such threats came in September 1830 when Hiram Page, one of the eight special Book of Mormon witnesses and a “teacher” in the church, received revelations through a “stone” about “the upbuilding of Zion, the order of the Church, etc.” “All of which,” Smith later wrote, “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.” This challenge troubled Smith, since many members of his new church believed Page’s revelations, including Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmer family.46 Such influence by a “teacher” indicates that a hierarchical concept of church government had yet to be worked out. However, Smith soon received a revelation which declared that Page’s revelations were devil-inspired and that only Smith could receive revelation for the church (D&C 28).

The early Mormon converts in Ohio were also given to spiritual excesses. Early Mormon historian John Whitmer described how easily this small group of about three hundred followers of charismatic authority could be led astray. Satan, according to Whitmer, “took a notion to blind the minds of some of the weaker ones, and made them think that an angel of the Lord appeared to them and showed them writings on the outside cover of the Bible, and on parchment, which flew through the air, and on the back of their hands, and many such foolish and vain things—others lost their strength, and some slid on the floor, and such like maneuvers, which proved greatly to the injury of the cause.”47

In February 1831, a woman by the name of Hubble, a self-proclaimed prophetess who received “many revelations,” deceived enough members that Smith found it “necessary to inquire of the Lord” concerning her.48 The response from God was again that only Smith could receive revelation for the church (D&C 43). Ezra Booth wrote in 1831 that Hubble “so ingratiated herself into the esteem and favor of some of the Elders, that they received her, as a person commissioned to act a conspicuous part in Mormonizing the world. Rigdon, and some others, gave her the right hand of fellowship . . . but Smith, viewing her as an encroachment upon [p.108]his sacred premises, declared her an imposter, and she returned to the place from whence she came. Her visit, however, made a deep impression on the minds of many, and the barbed arrow which she left in the hearts of some, is not yet eradicated.”49

Smith himself later recalled the confused situation which existed in the early days of the church:

Soon after the gospel was established in Kirtland, and during the absence of the authorities of the church, many false spirits were introduced, many strange visions were seen, and wild enthusiastic notions were entertained; men ran out of doors under the influence of this spirit, and some of them got upon the stumps of trees and shouted, and all kinds of extravagances were entered into by them . . . and many ridiculous things were entered into, calculated to bring disgrace upon the church of God.

Smith also remembered that there were many “brethren and sisters that have had written revelations, and have started forward to lead the church. Such was a young boy in Kirtland. . . . The boy is now living with his parents, who have submitted to the laws of the church.” Smith found that these independent revelations were calculated “to cause the spirit of God to be withdrawn; and to uproot and destroy those glorious principles which had been developed for the salvation of the human family.”50

Levi Hancock recalled that Heman Basset, an early Mormon convert in Kirtland, received a revelation from an angel.51 George A. Smith reported that one “Black Pete” claimed to receive heavenly messages written on objects floating across the sky, and that Wycom Clark “got a revelation that he was to be the prophet,” persuading five others to start the “Pure Church of Christ.” John Noah also “assumed to be a prophet” and was excommunicated.52

Former Methodist preacher and early Mormon apostate Ezra Booth described the effects of charismatic authority in Ohio and Joseph Smith’s efforts to combat it: “Mormonism has in part changed its character, and assumed a different dress, from that under which it made its first appearance on the Western Reserve.” The religious enthusiasm and the charismatic sources of authority had “vanished out of sight,” according to Booth, but they stood “as the principal foundation of the faith of several hundred of the members of their church.” Booth explained that commissions to preach had been received from heaven, written on the palms of [p.109]hands and the lids of Bibles. “These commissions, when transcribed upon a piece of paper, were read to the church, and the persons who had received them, were ordained to the Elder’s office, and sent out into the world to preach.”53

As Joseph Smith moved to contain spiritual manifestations and to secure his leadership, he was criticized by David Whitmer and others who believed he was being mislead by Sidney Rigdon to stray from the Book of Mormon’s ideal of charismatic-based authority. By 1836 Smith had placed limitations on personal revelation among the rank and file and established a hierarchy that could maintain order. As O’Dea has noted, “even the overwhelming unpopularity that he [Smith] experienced after the Kirtland bank failure of 1837 could not upset what had been accomplished.” By the time of his death, continued O’Dea, “charisma had been successfully contained within the organized structure of the church and identified with the functions of church office.”54

In May 1831 Joseph Smith had dictated a revelation which approved of spiritual gifts but also set up safeguards by explaining the proper role of such gifts in the restored church:

There are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you. Behold, I, the Lord, have looked upon you, and have seen abominations in the church that profess my name. . . . There are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed; but the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off . . . from my church. . . . That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. . . . If you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God (D&C 50:2-4, 7-8, 23-24, 31).

When Jared Carter and Sylvester Smith visited members in Amherst, Ohio, in mid-1831 and observed their spiritual excesses, they attempted to counsel them according to the May 1831 revelation. However, not all the members accepted their instruction.55

The revelation mentioned excommunication as the spiritual weapon to combat spiritual excesses (D&C 50:6-9), and Smith [p.110]later told that this tool was utilized in maintaining order: “Those members that were exercised with it [a false spirit] were tried for their fellowship; and those that would not repent and forsake it were cut off. . . . The spirit was rebuked, and put down, and those who would not submit to rule and good order, were disfellowshipped.”56 On 17 February 1834, the Kirtland high council was organized. Its first recorded trial addressed the spiritual excesses of Curtis Hodges, Sr., a former Methodist, who repented of his error.57

Printing Smith’s revelations helped to stabilize and centralize authority in the church. The communications Smith had received from God giving his revelations eminence above the revelations of other church members were especially important. Publication of the revelations would not only strengthen Smith’s own leadership position but facilitate the codification of early Mormon group behavior; the printed revelations became the “law” by which church councils could try persons for their membership and the justification for disciplinary measures taken. In addition, printing the revelations was a necessary step in the legalization and institutionalization of restored authority.

According to David Whitmer, some of the early brethren objected to printing Smith’s revelations. “In the spring of 1832 [more likely 1831], in Hiram, Ohio, Brothers Joseph and Sydney, and others, concluded that the revelations should be printed in a book. A few of the brethren—including myself—objected to it seriously.”58 In November 1831, William E. McLellin led one group which objected to making the revelations “law and commandments” (D&C 43:8), citing the weak language of the revelations as the principal reason for their objection.59

But on 20 November 1831, John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery left Ohio with the manuscript revelations and arrived in Independence, Missouri, on 5 January 1832, intending to publish them.60 That June the first issue of the Mormon newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star appeared in Independence and included the text of “The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ” (now section 20). Each month thereafter the newspaper published the complete text of another revelation or portion of a revelation, and slow progress was made toward printing a compilation of all the revelations, until July 1833 when the press was destroyed by a mob. The unfinished sheets of the Book of Commandments were salvaged from the destroyed printing office and assembled and used by some of the elders.61

[p.111]In December 1833, when the church’s printing establishment was moved to Kirtland, Ohio, The Evening and the Morning Star continued under Oliver Cowdery’s editorship. In the last issue of September 1834, Cowdery announced that the entire Star would be reprinted but that typographical and other errors would be corrected. Even the revelations which were published in the Star, according to Cowdery, contained “many errors, typographical, and others, occasioned by transcribing manuscripts.” “But as we shall have access to originals,” he said, “we shall endeavor to make proper corrections.”62 Cowdery’s reprints, however, included additions and deletions not found in either the manuscript revelations or the original Star.

By October 1833 efforts were underway to have the corrected revelations finally published in book form, this time at Kirtland. The project reached fruition with the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835.

Such moves to contain charismatic excesses and to stabilize doctrine and governance of the church can be seen as signs of a refining or even redefining of the notion of authority which was occurring in the nascent Mormon movement. The “Protestant” notion of authority, emphasizing inner call and spirituality, was being transformed into a more “Catholic” one, emphasizing physical ordination and lineal priesthood.63

Challenges to charismatic authority also generated an institutionalization of authority and the stratification of church offices. As institutional sources of authority developed during the early phases of Mormonism, challenges became less threatening. The new administrative structure discouraged usurpers. Stratification and institutionalization created a context for authority. Once authority had been confined within institutional boundaries, those who participated in the system were encouraged to preserve it, for the authority of those at lower levels rested on the legitimacy of the authority of those at the top. The development of authority began in June 1831 with the addition of the “high priesthood” and culminated in April 1836 with the angelic commissions of Elias, Moses, and Elijah in the Kirtland temple. With each successive endowment of power, Joseph Smith moved further out of reach of usurpers.

As Smith prepared to move from New York to Ohio in January 1831, it was revealed that greater authority was yet to be given before the new gospel could be taken to the world. In December 1830 Smith had dictated a revelation which commanded the [p.112]church to “assemble together at the Ohio” (D&C 37:3). When some members questioned this commandment, Smith received another revelation explaining that the gathering was necessary “that ye might escape the power of the enemy” and promised that “there you shall be endowed with power from on high. And from thence, whosoever I will shall go forth among all nations . . . for Israel shall be saved” (38:31-33).

The first major step toward stratification of church authority came at a conference in June 1831 in Kirtland when Smith introduced and ordained several men to the “high priesthood.” Prior to June 1831 the only major division of authority was between elders—the charismatic leaders—and all others (see D&C 20:1-12, 38-45; 21:1-12; also chap. 6), nor did members recognize two priesthoods within the church. In 1832 Smith called these two priesthoods “the holy Priesthood”—the offices of deacon, teacher, priest, and elder—and “the high Priesthood” (sometimes called the Melchizedek Priesthood)—the office of high priest. At this point there was not yet a notion of “Aaronic” priesthood, and the offices of elder and high priest were conceived as offices within two different priesthoods. (Not until 22 September 1832 would the office of elder be included in the high priesthood [D&C 84].) Also there was not yet a concept that angelic ordination was needed to initiate the authority to ordain others to the high priesthood. Rather, on 6 December 1832, Smith dictated a revelation in which he was told that “the [high] priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—for ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage” (D&C 86:8-10).64

This early Mormon notion of priesthood seems congruent with that described in the Book of Mormon, which speaks of a high priesthood but mentions no need for angelic ordination. Alma’s discourse on the priesthood of Melchizedek emphasizes foreordination rather than physical earthly ordination. Alma explains: “I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son. . . . And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God” (Al. 13:1, 3).65

In 1832 Smith began emphasizing the lineal and legal aspects of priesthood restoration. That year he visited church members in [p.113]Missouri for the second time and encountered disputations centering on authority and priority of leadership. Smith later noted that the distance between the two church centers in 1831 created a “critical moment” in the history of the movement.66 Chief among Smith’s concerns was Edward Partridge, who had been appointed Bishop of the church in February 1831 and was presiding over the church in Missouri. According to Ezra Booth, Partridge was concerned that not all of Smith’s revelations seemed to have been divinely inspired.67

Soon after arriving in Missouri during his first visit in the summer of 1831, Smith heard colleague Sidney Rigdon at a conference in Kaw Township exhort Bishop Edward Partridge to be obedient to “the requisition of Heaven.”68 Rigdon felt that Partridge was overstepping the limits of his authority. After Smith’s departure, the Missouri church held a conference on 10 March 1832 and heard charges against Partridge, including his “having insulted the Lord’s prophet in particular & assumed authority over him in open violation of the Laws of God.”69 The office of bishop was new, and perhaps Partridge, like Bishop Newel K. Whitney in Ohio, “thought like the Catholics and Episcopalians [that] a Bishop was the highest office in the church”—or at least the church in Missouri.70 Thus Smith and Partridge may have engaged in a dispute over jurisdiction. At this time, however, Partridge humbled himself and asked for forgiveness.

After returning to Ohio, Smith received a revelation which declared that Partridge “hath sinned, and Satan seeketh to destroy his soul” (D&C 64:17). Smith also dictated a revelation in November 1831 which more clearly defined the relationship between his new role as “President of the High Priesthood” and “the office of bishop.” The revelation, addressed “to the church of Christ in the land of Zion,” explained:

It must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church; or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church. From the same comes the administering of ordinances and blessings upon the church, by the laying on of the hands. Wherefore, the office of a bishop is not equal unto it; for the office of a bishop is in administering all temporal things; nevertheless a bishop must be chosen from the High Priesthood. . . . Wherefore, now let every man learn [p.114]his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence (D&C 107:59, 65-69).71

In April 1832, Smith again visited the Saints in Missouri, otherwise, God told him, “Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away” (D&C 78:9-10). The possible apostasy of the Missouri church and loss of the designated land of Zion was a disturbing thought to church leaders in Ohio. The record of the meeting in Missouri reports that “Joseph Smith Jr. [was] acknowledged by the High Priests in the land of Zion to be President of the High Priesthood, according to the commandment and ordination in Ohio, at the Conference held in Amherst January 25[,] 1832. And the right hand of fellowship [was] given him by the Bishop Edward Partridge in the land of Zion in the name of the Church. . . . All differences [were] settled & the hearts of all run together in love.”72

But by the time Smith had returned to Ohio in July 1832, the Missouri church was again in discord. A letter from William W. Phelps describing these problems was awaiting Smith when he arrived in Ohio. On 31 July 1832, Smith wrote to Phelps to “tell Bro[ther] Edward [Partridge] it is very dangerous for men who have received the light he has received to be a seeking after a sign, for there shall no sign be given for a sign except as it was in the days of Lot. God sent angels to gather him & his family out of Sodom while the wicked were destroyed by a devouring fire behold this is an exsample [sic].”73 Apparently, Partridge had renewed his challenge to Smith’s authority.

The leaders of the church in Kirtland continued to receive letters from the Missouri church containing “low, dark, and blind insinuations.” In response, Orson Hyde and Hyrum Smith—representing a conference of twelve high priests in Kirtland—wrote to their Missouri brethren on 14 January 1833:

At the time Joseph [Smith], Sidney [Rigdon], and Newel [Whitney] left Zion, all matters of hardness and misunderstanding were settled and buried (as they supposed), and you gave them the hand of fellowship; but, afterwards, you brought up all these things again, in a censorious spirit, accusing Brother Joseph in rather an indirect way of seeking after monarchial power and authority. This came to us in Brother Corrill’s letter of June 2nd. We are sensible that this is not the thing Brother Joseph is seeking after, but to magnify the high office and calling whereunto he has been called and appointed by the command of God, and the united voice of this Church.74

[p.115]In the midst of these challenges (sometime between 20 July and 27 November 1832), Smith began preparing an account of his early history and the rise of the church.75 In the preamble to this 1832 history, Smith wrote for the first time of angelic ministration—an account which certainly impressed Partridge and other former Seekers:

A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. An account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the Living God of whom he beareth record. Also an account of the rise of the Church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand. Firstly, he receiving the testamony from on high. Secondly, the ministering of Angels. Thirdly, the reception of the Holy Priesthood by the ministring of Angels to admin[i]ster the letter of the Gospel[,] the Law and commandments as they were given unto him[,] and the ordinenc[e]s. Fo[u]rthly, a confirmation and reception of the High Priesthood after the Holy Order of the Son of the Living God [with] power and ordinence[s] from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit, the Kees of the Kingdom of God confered upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c.76

Though this account adds the detail about “the ministring of Angels,” it is otherwise congruent with the notion of two priesthoods introduced in June 1831. The first priesthood is called “the Holy Priesthood” and is said to have come “by the ministring of Angels.” Nothing is said about the identity of the angels nor the date of the event. This first priesthood gave Smith power to “admin[i]ster the letter of the Gospel”—”the Law and commandments as they were given unto him”—and also to administer “the ordinanc[e]s.” The reception of the second priesthood is described as a “confirmation”—no angels are mentioned. This priesthood gave Smith authority “to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit.” This apparently refers to the reception of the “high Priesthood” at the June 1831 conference. This first attempt by Smith to write his history remained unfinished and unpublished.

In September 1832, about the same time he was working on his history, Smith received a revelation which again contained a reference to angelic ordination and also added significant new details to the early Mormon understanding of priesthood (D&C [p.116]84). The high priesthood introduced in June 1831 had been associated with Melchizedek.77 In the new revelation, the office of elder was linked for the first time with the high priesthood and was also associated with Melchizedek (84:14, 29). A “lesser priesthood,” resembling that which was “confirmed” upon Aaron, was also mentioned (84:6-18). Thus for the first time the greater priesthood was associated with Melchizedek and the lesser priesthood with Aaron. The revelation informed the early church that the sons of Moses received the “greater priesthood” through a lineage which included Melchizedek. This emphasis on priesthood lineage was also new.

The idea that the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament had been restored to Mormons was no doubt the most controversial element in the revelation. Mainline Protestants believed that the need for the old priesthood had ended with the conclusion of the old covenant at the death of Jesus. Even David Whitmer later criticized Smith for introducing into Mormonism both the “two orders of priesthood” and the “lineal priesthood of the old law.” This revelation on priesthood (D&C 84) was probably one of the revelations Whitmer had in mind when he suggested that Sidney Rigdon “explained these things to Brother Joseph in his way, out of the old Scriptures, and got Brother Joseph to inquire, etc. He would inquire, and as mouth piece speak out the revelations just as they had it fixed up in their hearts.”78 It is difficult to determine how much influence, if any, Rigdon had on Smith, but Whitmer’s impression was no doubt encouraged by the fact that the revelation on priesthood occurred during the same period that Smith and Rigdon were working together on the “Inspired Translation of the Bible.”79

The revelation anticipated criticism regarding the restoration of an Old Testament priesthood and alluded to the promise in Exodus 40:15 that Aaron’s sons would be given “an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.” According to the revelation, “the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God” (84:18). It also seemed to allude to the Lord’s promise in Malachi 3:3 to “purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” The revelation thus predicted the fulfilling of this promise: “the sons of Moses and also the [p.117]sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord” (84:31).

According to the revelation, John the Baptist in addition to being “filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb” was also “ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews” (D&C 84:27-28). This was, then, a precedent for priesthood restoration. What the revelation did not suggest, however, was that angelic ordination had restored priesthood to the Mormon movement. Rather it stated that Mormons had a right to these two priesthoods because they had become the sons of Moses and Aaron through the “renewing of their bodies” by the spirit (84:31-34).

By 1834 difficulties were still pressing against the church in Missouri. Trouble with neighbors escalated to armed skirmishes, and a militia of Mormons from Ohio failed to return the Saints to their Missouri lands. Smith’s charismatic powers were again challenged. Against this backdrop, Smith renewed his efforts to lay before the Saints the true source of his authority. At one meeting, held on 21 April 1834 in Norton, Ohio, Smith “gave a relation of obtaining and translating the Book of Mormon, the revelation of the Priesthood of Aaron, the organization of the Church in 1830, the revelation of the High Priesthood, and the gift of the Holy Ghost poured out upon the Church.”80 Although the “high priesthood” had been visible in the church before the lower priesthood, Mormons now learned that the priesthood of Aaron had been received first, in conformity with the descriptions of priesthood authority in section 84. Discussion of the high priesthood still failed to mention Peter, James, and John.

Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to William W. Phelps on 7 September 1834 describing the angel’s visit to Smith and himself. When published in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate in October 1834, this letter became the first published announcement that the priesthood had been restored through angelic ordination. Cowdery hoped, he wrote, that his account of early church history would “prove especially beneficial . . . by confirming [Phelps and the Missouri church] in the faith of the gospel”:

On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the vail was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory . . . his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, “I am thy fellow servant,” dispelled every fear. . . . We received under [p.118]his hand the holy priesthood, as he said, “upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer this priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon earth, that the sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness!”81

According to Cowdery, the angel himself alluded to Malachi 3:3. Although the reference to “the sons of Levi” might imply a connection to Aaron, Cowdery only refers to the “holy priesthood.”

Not until September and October 1835, a year later, as he copied blessings into a patriarchal blessing book, did Cowdery give an account of the visit of the ancient apostles—Peter, James, and John. In the introduction to the blessing Smith had given him in 1833, and which he was now copying into the blessing book, Cowdery wrote that Smith was “ordained by the angel John, unto the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood, in company with myself.” “After this,” Cowdery continued, “we received the high and holy priesthood.”82 The blessing itself, according to Cowdery’s 1835 copy, promised:

These blessings shall come upon him [Oliver] according to the blessings of the prophecy of Joseph in ancient days, which he said should come upon the seer of the last days and the scribe that should sit with him, and that should be ordained with him, by the hands of the angel in the bush, unto the lesser priesthood, and after receive the holy priesthood under the hand of those who had been held in reserve for a long season, even those who received it under the hand of the Messiah, while he should dwell in the flesh upon the earth, and should receive the blessings with him, even the seer of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saith he, even Joseph of old.83

Although the original blessing is not extant, comparisons of other blessings with those copied into the patriarchal blessing book indicate that “Cowdery greatly expanded the blessings beyond their contents as initially recorded.”84

The interest in the ancient patriarchs, evident in both Cowdery’s introduction and his version of the blessing, had no doubt been inspired by the church’s acquisition of Egyptian papyri in July 1835. By December 1835, Cowdery was publicly stating that the papyri contained “the writings of Abraham and Joseph” and gave preliminary observations about their content.85 The blessing did not yet indicate when the apostles, as yet unnamed, delivered the “holy priesthood” to Smith and Cowdery, but the phrase [p.119]”high and holy priesthood” in Cowdery’s introduction suggested a connection to the high priesthood introduced at the June 1831 conference.86

Preparing the manuscripts in the months before the 1835 printing of the Doctrine and Covenants, Smith added phrases which had not appeared in earlier versions of several revelations—including details about angelic ordination and the visit of Peter, James, and John. To section 5 (dated March 1829), Smith added the words “hereafter you shall be ordained and go forth and deliver my words unto the children of men” (v. 6) and “you must wait yet a little while, for ye are not yet ordained” (v. 17). To section 7 (dated April 1829), he added “I [Jesus] will make thee [Peter] to minister for him [John] and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come” (v. 7). To section 27 (dated September 1830), he added “John [the Baptist] I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron . . . and also . . . Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them; unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times” (vv. 8, 12-13).

On 1 August 1842, Smith published in the Times and Seasons another installment of his personal history in which he gave an account of his and Cowdery’s reception of the priesthood. However, Smith’s account differs from Cowdery’s in that the angel specifically names the priesthood and describes the nature of its authority. In Smith’s account the angel is identified as John the Baptist, who declares:

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion, for the remission of sins, and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.87

Perhaps explaining the late public disclosure of this angelic ordination, Smith writes that he and Cowdery “were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood.”88

In his 1838 history, Smith referred only in passing to Peter, James, and John. He reported that at the time he and Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood, the Baptist told them that “he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John who held the keyes of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood he said would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he [Oliver Cowdery] the second.”89

The introduction of the concept of lineal religious authority made it easier to thwart usurpers and pretenders. The claim of uninterrupted succession of ordinations back to one who had undisputed authority was a stabilizing force. The Kirtland temple, which was dedicated in 1836, can be seen as a symbol of the accommodation of hierarchy and charisma which Mormonism had achieved by that point.

On the one hand, the dedication of the temple occasioned a renewed outpouring of charismatic, spiritual power. Milton V. Backman, Jr., has described this period as the “Pentecostal Season” of Mormon history. “During a fifteen-week period, extending from January 21 to May 1, 1836,” Backman writes, “probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and witnessed other unusual spiritual manifestations than during any other era in the history of the Church.”90 Commenting on this period of church history, Smith called it “a Pentecost and an endowment indeed.”91

On Sunday, 27 March 1836, nearly a thousand Mormons crowded into the temple for its dedication. During the meeting some received wonderful manifestations. According to the official account, Frederick G. Williams testified that an angel sat next to him during the prayer; David Whitmer said he saw several angels; Brigham Young spoke in tongues; and David W. Patten interpreted and also spoke in tongues.92

That same evening, at a closed meeting of the priesthood quorums, Smith instructed his followers to “not quench the Spirit, for the first one that opens his mouth shall receive the Spirit of prophecy.” According to Smith’s account, “George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the [p.121]congregation simultaneously arose, being moved by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation.”93

However, even as the dedication of the temple occasioned this renewal of pentecostal and charismatic fervor, it also underscored the ordered environment in which such fervor might be more or less safely allowed. For the dedication of the temple was also an occasion for the assertion of legalistic or institutional authority. The two priesthoods and their various ranks of authority were clearly displayed for all to see. Pulpits in three rows of ascending height had been erected at opposite ends of the temple, where the presidencies of the various quorums of the priesthood sat.94 During the conference, each of the presiding quorums and various presidents were presented for the sustaining vote of the membership. At this time, Smith reported, “I bore record of my mission, and of the ministration of angels.”95 Thus each man knew his place in the power structure, as well as the limits of what was allowed in ecstatic experiences.

The following Sunday, 3 April 1836, the temple again filled with Saints, and Smith and Cowdery stepped behind the veils which had been lowered to conceal the pulpit at the front of the hall. According to Doctrine and Covenants 110, several visions opened to their view. First, Jesus Christ appeared, accepted the temple, and mentioned “the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house” (v. 9). Moses followed and gave them “the keys of the gathering of Israel” (v. 11). Elias then appeared and “committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” (v. 12). Finally, Elijah appeared and declared he came “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse.” He also announced that “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” (vv. 13-16).

Smith and Cowdery now held keys which were not shared by other priesthood officers. As joint presidents of the church, they were beyond the reach of usurpers. But this occasion could also have been read as a wonderful blending of the authority expectations of literalistic Seekers who were divided between spiritual endowment and angelic ministration.


[p.122]1. Historian Jan Shipps might as well be describing the differences between Campbellites and Seekers when she contrasts the restoration claims of Alexander Campbell’s group and the Mormons: “It is important to note the difference between radical restoration movements, which make possible new beginnings in all the dimensions of religion—mythological, doctrinal, ritual, social, and experiential—and restoration movements, which, through processes of reformation, reinterpretation, and reintegration, revitalize religious traditions.” Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 71-72.

2. “Celebrated as the era of Reformation is,” Alexander Campbell wrote in 1824, “we doubt not but that the era of restoration will as far transcend it.” Christian Baptist 2 (11 Sept. 1824): 136.

3. Thomas Collier, The Marrow of Christianity (London, 1647), 63; William Dell, The Way of True Peace and Unity (London, 1649), 19.

4. George Fox, A Journal, ed. William Penn (Philadelphia, 1831), 3:xvii, xviii.

5. Wayne Sentinel, 23 Feb. 1825. See also Erastus Hanchett, A Serious Call in Christian Love (Boston, [1825]), 6-8, 19.

6. [Asa Wild], A Short Sketch of the Religious Experience, and Spiritual Travels, of Asa Wild, of Amsterdam, N.Y. Written by himself, by Divine Command, and the most infallible Inspiration (Amsterdam, NY: printed for the author by D. Wells, 1824), 78.

7. Ibid., 79.

8. Wayne Sentinel, 22 Oct. 1823.

9. John Saltmarsh, Sparkles of Glory (London, 1648), 292. This Seeker uncertainty about the nature of restored authority is also reflected in early Mormon convert John Murdock’s comment that he had concluded prior to the arrival of the Mormon missionaries in the Ohio Reserve that “the Lord must either send an angel to baptise the first man, or he must give a special command to some one man to baptise another” (John Murdock Journal, 9, in Milton V. Backman, Jr., “The Quest for a Restoration: The Birth of Mormonism in Ohio,” Brigham Young University Studies 12 [Summer 1972]: 362).

10. “The great Commotions[,] that which the most stir hath been about, is, the matter of Authority,” Edward Gee, rector at Eccleston, wrote in 1658 (The Divine and Originall of the Civill Magistrate from God Illustrated and Vindicated [London, 1658], Preface [unpaginated], and Sec. 2; see also Ian Michael Smart, “Edward Gee and the Matter of Authority,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 27 [April 1976]: 115-27). On the problems of religious authority during this period, see John M. Todd, ed., Problems of Authority (London: Darton Longman & Todd, 1962), and Gerald R. Cragg, Freedom and Authority: A Study of English Thought in the Early Seventeenth Century (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975); Robert R. Orr, Reason and Authority: The Thought of William Chillingworth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967); W. M. Southgate, John Jewel and the Problem of Doctrinal Authority (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962).

[p.123]11. John Saltmarsh, Groanes of Liberty (London, 1646), Pt. 2 “The Beam of Light,” 23; cf. John Saltmarsh, Some Drops of the Vial (London, 1646), 90.

12. Robert Bayllie, Anabaptism, the True Fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antimony, Familisme, and the most of the other errours, which for the time doe trouble the Church of England, Unsealed (London, 1647), 97.

13. [Richard Baxter], Reliquiae Baxterianae: or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s Narrative of the most Memorable Passages of His Life and Times, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London, 1696), pt. 1, 76. Baxter’s Reliquiae Baxterianae was completed about 1685 but not published until after his death in 1696. See also The Safe Religion: or, Three Disputations For the Reformed Catholic Religion, Against Popery (London, 1657), unpaginated Introduction; A Second Sheet for the Ministry, Justifying our Calling Against Quakers, Seekers, and Papists, and all that deny us to be the Ministers of Christ (London, 1657), 2; The Successive Visibility of the Church of Which the Protestants are the soundest Members (London, 1660), 26-27.

14. Baxter, Second Sheet for the Ministry, 13.

15. Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, Appendix, 18-50; Successive Visibility, 355-62.

16. Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, pt. 2, 20.

17. Ibid., 21-22.

18. Ibid., 22.

19. Baxter, Second Sheet for the Ministry, 16.

20. Ibid., A2.

21. John Saltmarsh, Sparkles of Glory, 292.

22. Thomas Lechford, “Note-Book Kept by Thomas Lechford, Esq., Lawyer, in Boston, Massachusetts Bay, from June 27, 1638 to July 29, 1641,” Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society 7 (1885): 4, 47-50, 89, 275, 288.

23. John Cotton, A Letter of Mr. John Cottons Teacher of the Church in Boston, in New England, to Mr. Williams a Preacher There (London, 1643), 9.

24. Roger Williams, The Hireling Ministry None of Christs (London, 1652), 3, 4.

25. Ibid., 17.

26. Wayne Sentinel, 22 Oct. 1823.

27. William G. McLaughlin, “Revivalism,” in The Rise of Adventism: Religion and Society in Mid-Nineteenth Century America, ed. Edwin Scott Gaustad (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 129, 141.

28. Klaus Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 20.

29. See Mario S. DePillis, “The Quest for Religious Authority and the Rise of Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (Spring 1966): 68-88.

30. In E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed [sic]: or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 180.

31. Edward Partridge to Emily dow, 12 Oct. 1837, in Warren A. Jennings, “`What Crime Have I Been Guilty Of?’: Edward Partridge’s Letter to [p.124]an Estranged Sister,” Brigham Young University Studies 18 (Summer 1978): 525-26.

32. Although charismatic groups typically do not depend on a rigid hierarchy, they nonetheless are not undisciplined or entirely devoid of organization. See S. N. Eisenstadt, ed., Max Weber and Institution Building (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 50. What I am arguing is a matter of degree and emphasis, not the exclusion of one aspect of authority over another.

33. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO, 1887), 64.

34. This aspect of the Book of Mormon has also been noticed by G. St. John Stott, “Ordination and Ministry in the Book of Mormon,” Restoration Studies III, Maurice L. Draper and Debra Combs, eds. (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1986), 244-53.

35. John Smyth, leader of a sect of English Separatists in Amsterdam, Holland, had been criticized for baptizing himself in 1609. See Henry Martyn Dexter, The Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1880; rep. Westmead, England: Gregg International Publishers, 1970), 319-20. Robert Richardson reported on several instances of “self-baptisms” during the early decades of the nineteenth century. “A certain John Moore . . . repairing one day to a stream of water in a secluded place, where he thought no human eye could see him, he went through the usual forms and immersed himself. This, indeed, is not, even in the United States, the only instance of an individual becoming, both religiously and etymologically, a self-baptist.” Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 2 vols. (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1897-98), 1:457.

36. English Seeker John Jackson believed that authority to baptize could be delegated once the church had been established through charismatic leadership. See James A. Vendettuoli, “The English Seekers: John Jackson, the Principal Spokesman,” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1958, 154.

37. See Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 525-27. Sperry’s observation is only partly correct. From Mosiah to 3 Nephi baptism is without exception “unto repentance.” From the time of Jesus’s ministry among the Nephites to Moroni baptism is in the name of Christ. (Only one exception occurs when Mormon argues against infant baptism, Moro. 8:11.) In 1 Nephi through Omni, the first quarter of the Book of Mormon, one would expect baptism to be “unto repentance.” Instead, this section consistently states that baptism was in Christ’s name. This is one of the results of the first part of the Book of Mormon being written last.

38. See A. Bruce Lindgren’s introductory study, “The Development of the Latter Day Saint Doctrine of the Priesthood, 1829-1835,” Courage: A Journal of History, Thought and Action 2 (Spring 1972): 439-43.

39. Lucy [Mack] Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), 131.

40. Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1964), 1:60-61, hereafter HC; and D&C 128:21.

[p.125]41. Zenas H. Gurley, Jr., “Questions asked of David Whitmer at his home in Richmond Ray County Mo. Jan 14–1885,” typescript at LDS church archives.

42. William E. McLellin to J. L. Traughber, 25 Aug. 1877, in Salt Lake Tribune, 4 Dec. 1985.

43. True L[atter] D[ay] Saints’ Herald 17 (15 Sept. 1870): 556. See also William E. McLellin to Joseph Smith III, July 1872, RLDS church archives, Independence, Missouri, where McLellin states: “But as to the story of John, the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver on the day they were baptized: I never heard of it in the church for years, altho I carefully noticed things that were said.” Also interesting in this connection is the letter McLellin wrote to his relatives in Carthage, Smith County, Tennessee, on 4 Aug. 1832, explaining his reasons for joining the Mormon church. While he describes the Moroni visits as well as several distinctive religious views of the church, including the saving ordinances, he does not mention the reception of priesthood authority. William E. McLellin to Samuel McLellin, RLDS church archives.

44. True L[atter] D[ay] Saints’ Herald 19 (1 Aug. 1872): 472.

45. Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 156.

46. HC 1:109-10.

47. John Whitmer, An Early Latter Day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer, Kept by Commandment, F. Mark McKiernan and Roger D. Launius, eds. (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1980), 36.

48. Ibid., 42; HC 1:154.

49. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 216. See Smith, Biographical Sketches, 211-13.

50. Joseph Smith, “Try the Spirits,” Times and Seasons 3 (1 April 1842): 747.

51. Autobiography of Levi Hancock, 41, in Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), 59-60.

52. In Brigham Young, et al., Journal of Discourses of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 26 vols. (Liverpool: LDS Book Depot, 1855-86), 11:3-4, hereafter JD; also Smith, “Try the Spirits,” 747.

53. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 183, 185. See also Whitmer, Early Latter Day Saint History, 36. Thomas Campbell, father of Alexander, spent the winter of 1830-31 in Mentor, Ohio, and on 4 February wrote a letter to Sidney Rigdon, complaining that Mormon claims to authority based on charismatic displays of spiritual revival were “in no wise superior to the pretentions of the first quakers, of the French Prophets, of the Shakers, of Jemima Wilkinson, &c.” Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 121-22. See also Walter Wilson Jennings, Origin and Early History of the Disciples of Christ with Special Reference to the Period Between 1809 and 1835 (Urbana, 1918), 295.

54. O’Dea, The Mormons, 159, 160.

55. Autobiography of Jared Carter, 4-5, in Backman, Heavens Resound, 62; also Journal History, July 1831.

56. Smith, “Try the Spirits,” 747.

57. HC 2:33-34.

[p.126]58. Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, 54. Whitmer errors on the date of the conference. It was in November 1831, not 1832.

59. HC 1:226; D&C 67.

60. McKiernan and Launius, An Early Latter Day Saint History, 85. For confirmation of this date, see H. Michael Marquardt, “Early Text of Joseph Smith’s Revelations, 1828-1833,” Restoration 1 (July 1982):10n21.

61. Peter Crawley and Chad J. Flake, Notable Mormon Books, 1830- 1857 (Provo, UT: Friends of the Brigham Young University Library, 1974), 6; Peter Crawley, “Joseph Smith and A Book of Commandments,” Princeton University Library Chronicle 42 (Autumn 1980): 18-32.

62. The Evening and the Morning Star 2 (Sept. 1834): 192.

63. Historian William D. Russell noted the stabilizing effect of Mormonism’s present “Catholic” tendencies: “Latter Day Saint priesthood was a natural response to a historical situation in which traditional sources of authority in Christianity had been lost, and new sources of authority were needed to restrain the highly subjective and individualized form of Christianity that was developing in a new form of evangelism known as revivalism.” William D. Russell, “The Latter Day Saint Priesthood: A Reflection of `Catholic’ Tendencies in Nineteenth-Century American Religion,” Restoration Studies (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1980), 232-41.

64. Orson Pratt attempted to explain how Joseph Smith could see God in 1820 without the “high priesthood” (D&C 84:19-25) by claiming that he “had been already ordained before this world was made [Al. 13]” (JD 22:29).

65. The concept of certain individuals being foreordained to the high priesthood is not unlike the beliefs of the Ephrata Commune, a group of German mystics who settled near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the 1720s. Their leader, Friedsam Gottrecht, was, as the tradition goes, “pre-ordained to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” [Jacob Gass], Chronicon Ephratense (Lancaster, PA, 1889), 3. Gottrecht ordained others to the same priesthood. According to one account, in August 1740 the leader of the commune “solemnly consecrated Brothers Onesimus (Israel Eckerling), Jaebez (Peter Miller) and Enoch (Conrad Weiser) to the priesthood, by the laying on of hands; after which they were admitted to the ancient Order of Melchizedek by having the degree conferred on them in ancient form.” Julius Friedrich Sachse, The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania, 1708-1742: A Critical and Legendary History of the Ephrata Cloister and the Dunkers, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1899-1900), 1:386, in D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 180.

66. Joseph Smith to W. W. Phelps, 31 July 1832, in Dean C. Jessee, comp. and ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 244.

67. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 202.

68. Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 9.

69. Ibid., 41.

70. Edward Hunter, in Aaronic Priesthood Minutes, 3 March 1877, in Dale Beecher, “The Office of Bishop,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Winter 1982): 103. Hunter states that when Newel K. Whitney was called in December 1831 to the office of bishop, “he did not Know at the [p.127]time nor Joseph either what the position of a bishop was. Thought like the Catholics and Episcopalians a Bishop was the highest office in the church.”

71. An early version of D&C 107:59-100 appears in the “Kirtland Revelation Book,” [84-86], under the date Nov. 1831. On the dating of D&C 107:59-100, see Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Provo, UT: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981), 215-16, 326n1.

72. Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 44-45; HC 1:267.

73. Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 247.

74. HC 1:318.

75. See Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 3.

76. Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1987), 3-4.

77. In Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 180.

78. Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, 64.

79. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 36.

80. HC 2:52.

81. Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct. 1834): 13-16.

82. Patriarchal Blessing Book, 1:8-9, in Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Second Witness of Priesthood Restoration,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1968, 20; cf. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, ed. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-56), 3:100. This introduction was written by Oliver Cowdery in September 1835.

83. Patriarchal Blessing Book, 1:12, in Anderson, “Second Witness of Priesthood Restoration,” 16; cf. Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:101. Oliver Cowdery copied this blessing into the patriarchal blessing book on 2 October 1835; the original blessing was given on 18 December 1833.

84. Faulring, American Prophet’s Record, 19n8.

85. See Messenger and Advocate 2 (Dec. 1835): 233-36.

86. Linguistic affinity between Cowdery’s introduction to his blessing and the Book of Abraham is clear. Cowdery states: “Our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer . . . and we diligently sought for the right of the fathers, and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to administer the same; for we desired to be followers of righteousness, even the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Patriarchal Blessing Book, 1:8-9). The Book of Abraham states: “I sought for the blessings, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge. . . . I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers” (1:2). Cowdery’s language contributes to the impression that he was referring to the restoration of the high priesthood.

87. Times and Seasons 3 (1 Aug. 1842): 865-67; cf. HC 1:39. The angel’s words were canonized in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 13).

88. HC 1:43-44.

89. Ibid., 40-41. Ambiguity in Smith’s dating of the visit of Peter, James, and John has given rise to speculation that it actually occurred after the organization of the church. See HC 1:176n; JD 9:88-89; 10:303; Richard [p.128]L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 162-63, 240-41n55.

90. Backman, Heavens Resound, 285.

91. HC 2:432-33.

92. Ibid., 427-78. Smith’s description of spiritual manifestations is supported by others. See Backman, Heavens Resound, 284-309. The evidently subjective nature of these experiences is attested to by William E. McLellin, David Whitmer, and others, who (contradicting the official version) reported they had no such experiences and suggested that the others only imagined them. See True L[atter] D[ay] Saints’ Herald 19 (15 July 1872): 437; Ensign of Liberty, March 1848, 6-7, 69; Salt Lake Tribune, 2 Dec. 1985; The Des Moines Daily News, 16 Oct. 1886; The Return 1 (June 1889).

93. HC 2:428.

94. See Lauritz G. Petersen, “The Kirtland Temple,” Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Summer 1972): 405-9.

95. HC 2:427.