Learning from our Restorationist Cousins

I had the pleasure of listening to Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazy from the Community of Christ church, the new name for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as of 2001 on one of the podcasts done by Mormon Stories.

He likes to be called Steve.

It was refreshing and enlightening to listen to one who calls himself a prophet-president of a nominally Mormon sect (although they eschew that name) discuss his uncertainty over faith issues, being honest about troubling early Mormon history, and his comfort with describing the process by which he receives revelation for his church. If I can have one takeaway from the Community of Christ (CoC) it’s how comfortable they are with canonizing new revelation every few years or so and adding to their Doctrine & Covenants and how good they are with transparency. Their section 164 was canonized in 2010 in a process similar to how the early saints accepted revelation from Joseph Smith. I rather like that! I find the later sections to be a bit vapid, but nothing that is less that what we see gracing the pages of the Ensign. Their courage and declaring it revelation is pretty brave, and the commitment to modern revelation should be applauded. So too, is their fellow-shipping of the marginalized and their willingness to forgive their members and their leaders for sinning and mistakes–just like Joseph. I believe that the ordination of women was in the Spirit of Joseph’s involvement of women in Nauvoo, even if they may take it further than it should at this point (heck, I don’t know).

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe all branches of the restoration that are organized and institutionalized are wrong at some things. The Community of Christ has, in my opinion, overemphasized ecumenical attachment to the wider Protestant community and with mainstream theology and academia. They emphasize the Bible over the Book of Mormon. They aren’t attached to the reality of the Restoration as far as Joseph’s reach into heaven, which I believe is THE defining characteristic that makes the Restoration worth preserving . . . coming into the presence of the Lord in a real and material sense. They do however, have a better grasp of the Christian teachings as outlines in the Book of Mormon. They care less about the genesis of the work, and more about its teachings and effects at bringing peace and community to a Christian brotherhood, which they interpret as Zion. In many ways, their efforts at building Zion are more heartfelt and effective than in the LDS Church, even if they have a greater Gentile attachment to Protestantism and liberal theology. I say good on them for their best efforts! I believe that those of us who would be classified as Restoration preservationists, Mormon refugee remnant types, those that have left the keyholding suffocation of the traditional LDS institutional church, and who have been re-baptized, would have place and fellowship in CoC congregations in a more accepting manner than in some of our LDS wards. Perhaps we can accept them as well and be tolerant of some of their unbelief as we work towards understanding and implementing the Doctrine of Christ and principles of Zion.

Which got me thinking. What else can we learn from other Mormon sects that would benefit a Mormon seeker of truth? I believe that many of them have some vital gems that would allow us to a) learn the good they have to offer as well as b) help them to come to their own better understanding of Mormonism – perhaps enough to recommit themselves to preserving the Restoration and understanding and applying its vital truths.

One may benefit greatly at this point from understanding the theological and historical tree of Mormonism. I will discuss some of them here.

While the first great schism happened as the RLDS/CoC Church “reorganized” itself in the Plains under the tutelage of Joseph Smith III in the 1860’s and 1870’s on Joseph Smith’s legacy of monogamy the next great schism would happen over 50 years later in Utah over the same idea but in reverse. Lorin C. Woolsey began the Council of Friends in the 1920’s which came out of the confusion of the post-Manifesto LDS world and the final solution of excommunicating and shunning any polygamist. The Council of Friends was the impetus for the many polygamist fundamentalists groups that exist today, and they are many. Some of them I believe have nothing worth preserving due to how they have conducted themselves in a manner inconsistent with the Savior. I won’t mention them. But some of the groups have to one extent or another, managed to adhere to some of the Christian principles that came to light during the Restoration. The largest of them being the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB). If you watch the TV show, the Sister Wives, you will see an example of a plural family from the AUB “Work.” Now I believe that all polygamist sects are trying to return to a fundamentalism that was already corrupted, that had already strayed from the foundations Joseph Smith taught before 1844. Just as the LDS Church lost so much through the death of Joseph and Hyrum and through Brigham Young’s Machiavellian maneuvers, what came after with John Taylor had become too corrupted to be an appropriate return point. Too many of those groups have gone down dark paths, and we have decades of evidence that it has not brought Zion. But we can point out some things that we can learn from them to help us in our own journeys:

  • They don’t murmur or disparage the other churches including the LDS Church.
  • The unchanging nature of God’s word. New prophets can supersede past ones, they need to agree.
  • They recognize that Mormonism is “out of order” and they are waiting for the “one Mighty and Strong” to restore what was lost. They do not exempt themselves for having some level of apostasy.
  • The Kingdom of God or the Gospel being separate from the Church
  • Rebaptism as a re-commitment
  • Efforts at consecration and Zion living
  • The Law of Adoption (Sealing to a Saved man)

I’ve been amazed by how many of these people are willing to allow for a servant of the Lord outside of their own narrative to come and teach them truth. Many of them have accepted Denver Snuffer as a messenger from the Lord. For that, I pray they will be blessed.

Leaving Utah-based polygamy sects, I want to spend the next part exploring the Saints that were left behind, on the Prairie, and back east. Many of them place a greater emphasis on the doctrines in the Book of Mormon, which I believe is a key to pierce the heavens.

I’ve already discussed the Community of Christ, but many people are unaware of the foundational Restorationist traditions that were abandoned during the CoC’s ecumenical liberalization after the 1960’s. Many of those dissaffected by the change (when they were self-described as RLDS) have created their own break-offs and sects that adhere more closely to the foundation of Mormonism. They often practice a more “Mormon” religion. They generally believe in Joseph and Emma’s story of monogamy, as was the accepted narrative in the RLDS Church from the 1860’s to the 1970’s. They accept the Book of Mormon as historical, miraculous, and divinely inspired as the “most correct book.” Other churches predate the RLDS movement–they come out of earlier traditions. They have value as well.

The Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broke away from the RLDS/CoC Church in 1999 as a result of the liberalization of many of their doctrines, mainly giving women the Priesthood and leaving the patrilineal succession of the High Priesthood (the Prophet not being a Smith). They recognize an apostasy and that no one on Earth has the authority to lead the Church, so they do as they can, follow the Doctrine of Christ until such a thing is made manifest. They believe that modern revelation must be consistent with past revelation. It does not trump the old stuff as one sees in the LDS and CoC churches. The remain committed to a geophysical Zion and consider themselves heirs to the original Church of Christ of 1830

Other Independent Restorationist break-offs number in the tens of thousands through the Midwest, a legacy begun in the 1980’s. Some of them are still members on the rolls of the CoC. They hold many of the same views as the more established Remnant RLDS break-off group, but are more independent and factiononalized along geographic and theological differences. Due to the open and tolerant nature of the CoC Church, the cross-pollination of this movement with the CoC Church cannot be overemphasized. Some hold the primacy of the Book of Commandments over the Doctrine & Covenants. Others believe in a more appropriate Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost where the laying on of hands is merely a prayer for the reception of the Holy Ghost by the member. They all eschew modern innovation to ordinances.

Other branches come independent of the RLDS church, some earlier.

  • Temple Lot (Hendrickites) – Believe in the Book of Mormon, Bible, and Book of Commandments. They have more human interpretation of Joseph Smith and follow many of the tenants laid out by David Whitmer. They have a looser and more democratic understanding of Priesthood. Their claim to fame is to have a “temple” on the supposed spot of the 1831 dedicated land in Independence Missouri for a temple.
  • Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonites) – They are a Pennsylvania sect that follow the narrative that Sydney Rigdon was the rightful heir of the Church. Their current beliefs include dialing back their scriptures to the Bible and Book of Mormon. They practice the Washing of Feet as performed in the School of the Prophets in Kirtland. They focus many of their efforts on preaching the gospel to the Native Americans on both continents. They try to teach the gospel as is outlined in the Book of Mormon in its purity.

Only the largest corporation, The LDS Church, claims an unbroken chain of authority, with an impressive leadership genealogy, policies, properties, and works . . . yet as it continues to march forth, their take on the Restoration seems ever more distant as they focus more on handbooks and Ensigns. All of these other major groups to one extent or another recognize a loss. They see that the foundations built by Joseph Smith have been squandered, misused, misdirected, or forgotten to one extent or another.

joseph_preaching_groveYet it’s in recognizing the loss than hope comes, hope that we can reclaim the Restoration once again among those that have broken off. It won’t be easy. Many of their leaders would have to give up their claims to leadership, a high goal indeed, for many do not like to give up power, meager as it is in these small institutions. They are big fish in a small pond. Many will resist calls for re-baptism, or calls to form fellowships apart from the Gentile accouterments of the 501c3 status with paid or venerated clergy. But their people may feel the call of the Spirit, that after four generations, the Lord is moving once again as he prepares for the end to call out and create the Church of the Lamb of God.

I have no doubt that some of these groups were and are led by a portion of Lord’s Spirit, just as a portion still resides among Latter-day Saints. The explosion of Mormon break-offs after Joseph’s death speaks to me as many attempted to reproduce or claim the original spark. No one could have predicted in 1845 or 1846 that Brigham’s version would be the largest and most thriving system. Most of the rest of them recoiled in horror at the abominations practiced in Utah by Brigham Young (or the similar frauds of James Strang in Wisconsin). Many of them received revelations and visions, such as William Bickerton, or Alpheus Cutler, David Whitmer, or Joseph Smith III. Some of them tried to revive the Restoration, but with little to limited success.  Today we view these men as apostates, but I wonder if it would serve us better to see them as visionaries in understanding some of what needed to be accomplished, whether it was accomplished or not. We place their “fruits” against the emigrations west, 14 million membership, the hundred or so temples of the Latter-day Saint movement, it’s 60,000 missionaries, and billions in annual profits . . . against a building or two with a dedicated but dwindling group of people that wish to hold up such principles as consecration, a more democratic and charismatic Priesthood, and a reverence to the gospel as outlined in the Book of Mormon and it’s founder. But instead of material and programmatic fruits, impressive as they are, perhaps we should examine the state of the heart of the believers and the founders of these small groups, and see what they produced in the limited time they had? Did some ever rise up and claim the Heavenly Gift?

Perhaps we should view some of them as brave and unsung heroes.

Perhaps their fruits will be those who the Lord invites during the Parable of the Supper to come and feast with Him, because those that were bidden . . . did not come.

Perhaps in remembering the Restoration, we should find a way to live and invite our Restoration cousins to join hands with us, to come to a unity of the faith, to be the beginning of something greater that the Lord has promised since the beginning.

7 thoughts on “Learning from our Restorationist Cousins”

  1. Mr. Ebenezer Ryder

    Nice article. I have felt the same way for a while now. None of the other break offs from the church Joseph Smith led …
    1-attacked Emma Smith and her character
    2-taught blood atonement and violent rhetoric
    3-created a 100+ year ban on blacks receiving priesthood and temple blessings

    4- many didn’t practice the abomination of plural marriage
    5- make up false testimony to bolster claims
    6-rejected the JS translation of the Bible for 100+ years
    7-changed wine to water in the sacrament

    I called a restoration bookstore in Independence MO. recently to order a book and at the end of the conversation described the phenomenon going on in Utah Mormondom. The sweet lady I talked to, definitely had an appetite to learned more about her lost Utah brethren and the resurgence of spirit going on among them.

    Mr. Ebenezer Ryder

  2. Very timely article. I also watched Stephen Veasey’s interview and feel that we need to try to reach out to our cousins more. They do many things right in the Community of Christ that align with how Joseph Smith’s revelation on how the church should function. They actually listen to their members and common consent is practiced.

  3. Y’know, if they’re actually looking for one who is mighty and strong to set them straight, then they’ll find him. The LDS church on the other hand is not looking for anyone, thus they will not pay attention to him.

  4. …It’s interesting to hear my adherence to the Gospel described the way you put it in your article… Also interesting to read your perspective on the other churches you mentioned- some of the facts are a little off but it is good to have an outsider (i.e. LDS-centric perspective) describe us. Indeed, I believe the Lord has been teaching my family that His church is not defined the way men see things, but rather that He knows the hearts of us all and NONE of His sheep are EVER lost. Certainly, my family recognizes that if we don’t get around to building Zion in our lifetime, our little church could easily vanish like an insignificant wisp of smoke. Hey- the church I’m in might vanish once Zion is under way, and at that point- who cares?!? 🙂 It is uplifting to know there are still LDS who actively prepare themselves and work toward the realization of Zion- a city of incredible spiritual power, safety, and Light such as you or I have yet to know.

  5. What a holy, or unholy (as you may see it), mess! Confusion, confusion, confusion! You may see it differently.

  6. In high school in Overland Park, Kansas I had a wonderful teacher named Paul DeBarth. He related his RLDS mission to the Indians and some of their practices. I’ve wondered how he is and if he still lives.

    Steve Graham

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