This is an article I am writing about the succession crisis and the unification of the original LDS church. I wrote with the intent that it would be printed on a single page or a flier and easily handed out. So this is by no means comprehensive, rather it is just something to get a discussion going. So feel free to make comments, agree, disagree, expound, etc. Anyway here it the first part:
I know most people who read this will have a strong belief that their church is the only true church and that all other churches are false and apostate. This is a typical black and white, I’m right and your wrong, mentality. What we must first come to recognize is that world isn’t black and white. The world is a rainbow of colors, and so are God’s interactions with mankind. Humans are complicated beings. We are emotional, self-centered, and contradictory. But even so we have the potential to become one with the greatest being in this entire universe, Heavenly Father(John17:22).
Because of our fallen nature God has provided a way for us to be able to attain our potential. But since we are imperfect beings the tools God gives us, while perfect in nature, when applied by humans become imperfect. One example is Prophets. We often put our prophets of pedestals and make them seem more perfect than us. But the fact is they are imperfect beings too. So the concept of God having a mortal mouthpiece on Earth is a concept which is perfect in nature. But when a man is chosen to be God’s mouthpiece that man is still imperfect and can make mistakes.
Such principles and pertain to the church as well. We may say that only our church is right; our leaders might say that only our church is right. But that fact is it is not that simple. We can see this in the scriptures.
49 And John spake and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.
50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid not any; for he who is not against us is for us.
What we see here is that the apostles saw a man casting out devils, an act which requires authority. The man was casting them out in the name of Jesus Christ. But because this man was not following the Twelve Apostles they told the man not to cast out devils. But when they told Christ about it, He told them not to forbid him or any person. Why? Because as Christ said, he that is not against us is for us.
Christ supported this man in doing those things even though he was not following the Twelve Apostles. So even Christ himself has told us that it is not as simple as one church is right and everyone else is in apostasy. But rather what Christ teaches us is that we should be more concerned if someone is following Christ rather than following our church organization. This principle is critical to understanding the fragmentation of the Church in 1844 and its fallout.
On June 27, 1844 Joseph Smith was shot and killed at Carthage Jail. Naturally the question would come up who was to lead the church. This uncertainty was because of the fact that Joseph Smith never made it absolutely clear who his successor was to be. In fact many different people or groups had legitimate claims to being Joseph Smith’s successor.
The highest council in the church was the First Presidency. At the time of Joseph Smith’s death the First Presidency consisted of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon. Now by April 19, 1834, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had “laid hands upon bro. Sidney [Rigdon] and confirmed upon him the blessings of wisdom and knowledge to preside over the Church in the absence of brother Joseph.” This gave Sidney Rigdon a legitimate right to lead the church.
But the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has equal authority to the First Presidency. Brigham Young was the leader of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Toward the end of hs life Joseph Smith gave the priesthood keys to the Twelve Apostles for the administration of Temple ordinances for the living and the dead. This gives the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles a legitimate right to lead the church. At a conference in August 8, 1844 the saints were to vote on who should lead the Church, Sidney Rigdon or the Quorum of the Twelve. Many have heard the story that everyone there saw Brigham Young appear and sound like Joseph Smith. And they took this as proof that Brigham Young was the Joseph Smith’s true successor. In regards to histrical proof as to if this happened or not there are some accounts that support it and some accounts that don’t.
James Strang, despite being a recent convert, had been given great responsibility in scouting and establishing branches of the church in the Great Lakes area. As he was away from the Nauvoo he was not immediately aware fo Joseph Smith’s death. But despite this James Strang reported angels appearing to him and ordaining him to be Joseph Smith’s successor at that moment of Joseph’s death. Also James Strang received a letter from Joseph Smith after the prophet’s death. It had been sent by Joseph before his death. The letter appointed James to be the Church’s leader. James Strang also translated an ancient record found on plates buried under a tree. He also translated the Book of the Law of the Lord from the brass plates.
There were still other people who had legitimate claims to lead the church. Joseph Smith’s son, Joseph Smith III, was ordained, by his father, on at least four occasions to be the successor. In fact Joseph Smith’s last official act in Nauvoo was to ordain his sone to be his successor. The problem is that Joseph Smith III was only eleven years old at the time of his father’s death. He was too young to take leadership of the church. It should be noted that a prophet’s child becoming their successor is a very common occurrence in the scriptures.
Other people who made legitimate claims to lead the church were Granville Hedrick and Alpheus Cutler.
With all of these people who had claims to leadership, rather then attempting to find an orderly solution, the church split and divided following after the different leaders. Each church claimed to be the correct church and excommunicated those who didn’t follow them. The resulting confusion is something that has scarred the fragments of the original church, and created unkind feelings that continue to exist to this day.
What is clear is that the church as a whole stands in violation of one of God’s commandments given through the prophet Joseph Smith.
Behold, this I have given unto you a parable, and it is even as I am, I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine.
Does this mean that since the church split apart it is no longer Christ’s church? Well that could be one interpretation. But think “ye are not mine” is a phrase to express the gravity of not being one. We learn from the scriptures that God’s house is a house of order. When the church was no longer one, it caused mass confusion which still exists today. Especially when trying to view the original church as a whole. Every sect claiming they are the only right one. Every sect having revelations from their prophets, supporting their own doctrinal views. It is just a mess.