Carol and I have had a running conversation since Sunday about the succession crisis at the death of Joseph. To me, it has become the crux of the matter when considering the legitimacy of the LDS Church as the Kingdom of God on the earth. We have both been taught all our lives that Brigham had the Keys of the Kingdom and therefore nothing was lost when Joseph was killed.
Before I present anything may I remind everyone that this is the blog of a private member of the LDS Church and in no way represents the official viewpoints or doctrines of the LDS Church. For that, go to lds.org where you can read the official narrative of how the succession between Joseph and Brigham took place. I won’t review it here. I assume you are familiar with the story.
Second point: if my writing about this bothers you, please don’t read it. I am simply trying to understand our history more perfectly. If the history of our Church is not something that has anything to do with your faith or your willingness to follow the prophet or the Savior then go elsewhere. Pease ignore what I am about to present if the succession issue was settled in your mind long ago.
The Death of Joseph Smith
Up until a few years ago, I had no problems with stating Brigham was just as much a prophet as was Joseph. I accepted the standard narrative that the keys of the kingdom were given to each of the apostles by Joseph before he died. I’m sure we have all read the story of Brigham’s concern when he heard about Joseph’s death. He was with Orson Pratt in Peterboro, New Hampshire.
At first, Brigham was not sure and did not know how to proceed. He had to think about it. This was new and unexpected. It had never happened before. Hyrum was the intended successor, but he died before Joseph. Then Brigham remembered the Twelve had the keys. Section 107 tells us the Quorum of the Twelve is equal in authority and power to the Quorum of the First Presidency.
Legal Successors to Joseph
Brigham did not consider himself to be the legal successor to Joseph. He believed that right belonged to either Joseph Smith III or David Smith. He long hoped for the Spirit of God to move either Joseph or David to fill the station Brigham believed their father had appointed to them. We see things as being very clear and orderly today. At the time, they were not so clear to Brigham.
Brigham said, “[Joseph’s] boys … 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.” He also said, “The brethren testify that brother Brigham is brother Joseph’s legal successor. You never heard me say so. I do not think anything about being Joseph’s successor.”
Elected to the Position
In the great debate between Sidney and Brigham, both claimed they would be caretakers until Joseph’s sons could lead. Brigham relied on the idea that he possessed “all the keys” and was voted into office. When he became President of the Church, he recorded in his own journal he was “elected” to the office. He did not believe he needed any ordination to assume the office.
Did you catch that? Brigham Young was never ordained to be the President of the Church. He was only elected or sustained to the position. Common consent was all he felt he needed to take over the leadership of the Church. And he got it. Things were different in the early days of the Church. The position exists by reason of common consent and gives all the authority needed.
Authority and Power not the Same
Authority in the Church was derived from the consent of its members. However, authority is NOT the same as priesthood. While many have been called, few have been or ever will be entrusted with the power of the priesthood. Power in the priesthood is received by God and not by the laying on of hands. Power in the priesthood cannot be passed from one man to another.
I’ll state it again: Authority in the Church is not equal to power in the priesthood. President Packer made this clear in an April 2010 General Conference address. “The priesthood does not have the strength that it should and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be.” The power of the priesthood cannot be controlled by men.
Power not Controlled by an Institution
Power in the priesthood comes from heaven or it does not come at all. There has never been an institution entrusted with the power of heaven, and that includes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church can convey authority for men to rule over one another throughout the world. But the power of the priesthood comes only one way, and that is by the voice of God.
As the revelation to Joseph states it, man, or the Church does not have any right to either confer power in the priesthood or to prevent it from being conferred. Heaven alone determines if a man will be permitted to act as one of Heaven’s chosen high priests. Ordination is only an invitation. God alone confers the power. Any priesthood holder who has thought about this knows it is true.
Priesthood Independent from the Church
Priesthood and redemption are tied together. And if Joseph Smith’s revelations are to be trusted, then the church does not and cannot control either, because God controls both. Establishing the church was distinct from restoring the priesthood. And priesthood has existed, can and does exist independent of a church. Joseph’s revelations and ancient scripture repeatedly teach this truth.
The Church is completely dependent upon the priesthood to fill the male offices of the Church, but the priesthood still remains independent of the Church. The Aaronic priesthood has power for angels to minister, but Melchizedek priests may behold the face of God. When a man such as Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in 1820, he must have held the higher priesthood.
Higher Priesthood Comes Only From God
No man can see the Father without this priesthood and live. Therefore, Joseph had this higher priesthood even before the appearance of angels who later conferred priesthood upon Joseph. It is apparent Joseph was among those whose priesthood reckons from before the foundation of this world. The higher priesthood does not come from a man. It is only given by the voice of God.
Priesthood power is clearly something different than an ordination. But it is clear the only thing an ordination accomplishes is to invite the one ordained to connect to heaven. It is from heaven alone that priesthood power is obtained. An ordination confers an office in the Church, but an office in the Church is not synonymous with the power of heaven or power in the priesthood.
Ordinances are Invitations to Get Power
There are two different kinds of apostles. One is an administrative office in the church. The other is a witness of the resurrection, who has met with Christ. When Brigham was ordained an apostle, he was told his ordination was not full and complete until God had laid His hands upon him. The Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in latter days?
Most of the ordinances of the church are not the real thing. They are types and symbols of the real thing. They are official invitations, authorized by Christ, and extended to any person who will join the Church to go and get the real thing. Any person who has priesthood conferred upon him will need to go into God’s presence and receive power in their priesthood, through the veil.
Brigham Claimed to Have All the Keys
Every person who joins the church and keeps its ordinances will be invited through these very ordinances to come and receive the Lord. When they do come into His presence, they will find themselves in possession of promises, rights, privileges, power and covenants for themselves and their posterity, for all generations, and into eternity. They will have then turned unto the fathers.
Brigham’s claim to be in possession of “all the keys” previously conferred upon Joseph by heavenly messengers raised the question of exactly what was included in the conferral. Even today there is no full description of what keys were involved or what rights were included. Today, the claim is that the keys identified in section 110 are what were passed to the Twelve.
Joseph Never Taught Section 110
I have a copy of the Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, volume 1 in my possession. I read with interest the account of how section 110 came to be. It was recorded by Warren Cowdery, not as a direct eyewitness but being copied from some document no longer extant. This account is written in the third person and describes the visit of the various messengers to Joseph and Oliver.
The account of section 110 was not inserted into the record until many years after the deaths of the only eyewitnesses, Joseph and Oliver, who never taught or mentioned they had been visited by Christ, Moses, Elias or Elijah in the Kirtland temple. It was not discovered until 1852. In any event, the wording states the keys were committed, as if Joseph already had the sealing power.
Visit Of Elijah Still a Future Event
Until his dying day, Joseph referred to Elijah’s return as a still future event. Brigham Young was ordained an apostle in 1835, more than a year before the 1836 appearance of Christ, Moses, Elias and Elijah in the Kirtland temple. Joseph did not participate in Brigham’s ordination. Brigham was ordained by the Three Witnesses. How then, did Brigham receive the keys of the kingdom?
The Apostles were all invited to complete their ordinations by having hands laid upon their heads directly by Him who had the right to confer the Apostleship with power. Brigham Young never claimed such an ordination ever happened. Quite the contrary, he claimed the Lord never visited him. He said he never had any being from a higher sphere visit or speak with him in his lifetime.
Fullness of Priesthood Never Conferred
Brigham Young was correct about who should lead the church after Joseph’s death. The Twelve Apostles were entitled to lead the church. Section 107 makes this clear. The Church has the right to function as a complete organization with all the offices we have today. It also has the right to sustain by common consent individuals to those various offices, constituting authorized leaders.
Did Joseph die before he conferred the keys he held upon another? Was something vital lost to the Church when Joseph was taken? It is clear the Church was offered the fullness, but a temple was required to reveal it. Once completed, it would be the Lord that would confer priesthood power upon the saints, transfer the fullness of the priesthood, and then come to dwell with them.
Keys of the Kingdom Were Lost
But the temple was not built in time. Joseph even offered to sacrifice his life to give the saints more time. His offering was accepted, yet the work was not completed in time. In fact, the temple was never completed. The Lord never visited the building. The promised fullness was not passed to the saints in the manner section 124 commanded. Something vital was lost for a time.
Joseph’s death did not end the Lord’s plan for the Latter-day Saints. The Book of Mormon confirms the gentile church – we are identified as such in D&C 109:60 – will remain part of God’s plan from the moment of the restoration until the New Jerusalem is built. And so it has. But what keys, if any, were passed from Joseph to Brigham? Who has the Keys of the Kingdom?