Organization Mormon Church
The Organization of the Mormon Church
The Restoration of the Priesthood
The translation of the Book of Mormon was only interrupted a few times, when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery would retire to the woods to pray about doctrines they discovered in the Book of Mormon. The most important such incident, and one of the most important events in Mormon history, occurred on May 15, 1829, shortly after they translated the book of 3 Nephi, which mentions baptism by authority. As they prayed about the necessity of authority from God to perform baptisms, an angel appeared to them and identified himself as John the Baptist, who had baptized Jesus Christ. He gave them the authority to baptize in Jesus Christ’s name, which authority is called the priesthood. This priesthood, he explained to them, is the lesser priesthood, which gives the holder power to baptize, but not power to give the Holy Ghost (see Doctrine and Covenants 13). Immediately, they baptized one another. Joseph baptized Oliver first and then Oliver, Joseph.
Some time later, in June (the precise date was not recorded), while they were in the woods again, Joseph and Oliver were privileged to see Peter, James, and John, the Lord Jesus Christ’s disciples. They gave them the higher authority, called the Melchizedek Priesthood, which included the authority to give the gift of the Holy Ghost and to preside over Christ’s Church. The concept of authority and priesthood became a basic Mormon belief. Also in June, on the 11th, Joseph Smith traveled to Colesville, New York, where he obtained a copyright for the Book of Mormon. The translation was finished in Fayette, New York, in late June at the home of Peter Whitmer.
The Church is Organized
Shortly after the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph Smith announced that a church needed to be established. This occurred in two meetings — one held in Manchester, New York, and a more public meeting at Fayette. The Church of Christ, as the Mormon Church was originally called, was organized on April 6, 1830. Over 40 people were present, but six constituted the first members. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were accepted as teachers and elders of the Church. Many others were baptized in that first meeting, including Joseph’s father and mother, and his childhood friend Orrin Porter Rockwell. Around this same time, Joseph Smith cast an evil spirit out of Newel Knight, an early convert.
The Mormons immediately sent missionaries (the first was Samuel Smith) out into the surrounding regions and found success in Fayette and Colesville, but a few converts came from Palmyra. Elders, priests, and teachers were ordained in the congregations, but, from the beginning, Mormonism had a lay clergy. Virtually every male was ordained to the priesthood and appointed to some leadership function. Most of the early converts came from members’ extended families, as cousins, uncles, and others were baptized and formed branches of the Mormon Church in their own towns.
Once again, Joseph Smith was arrested for stirring up the community by preaching the Book of Mormon and organizing public meetings. Joseph was acquitted, but vigilante mobs continued to plague the Mormons at their meetings and at their baptisms. The building up of the church continued, however, and Mormon missionaries were sent throughout Canada and New England. By revelation (see Doctrine and Covenants 25), Joseph appointed Emma, his wife, to organize a hymn book for the young Mormon Church. Joseph continued to organize the Church structurally. When new converts claimed to have revelations for the whole Church, Joseph reminded them that only one was appointed to receive revelations for everyone at one time, but that anyone could receive visions and revelations for themselves and their families. Hiram Page was one who received supposed revelations, but after counseling from Joseph he conceded that they were not from God (see Doctrine and Covenants, Section 28).
In the fall of 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation that missionaries were to preach to the Indians, whom the Mormons referred to as the Lamanites (after a tribe in the Book of Mormon), in Missouri and to preach along the way. The “Mission to the Lamanites,” as it was called, sent Peter Whitmer, Parley Pratt, and Ziba Peterson westwards. Parley Pratt, a recent convert from Ohio, had previously been an itinerant preacher for the Campbellites, and as the group journeyed to Missouri, they preached to a Campbellite congregation in Kirtland, Ohio, overseen by an old friend of Pratt’s named Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon, an educated and eloquent minister, soon joined the Mormon Church, and so did hundreds of the Campbellites. This caused enough of a problem that Alexander Campbell, the leader of the Campbellites (later called Disciples of Christ), was forced to respond to the growing number of converts from his ranks by publishing the first books and pamphlets attacking the Mormons.
The Mormons, and Joseph Smith especially, continued to suffer legal harassment and mob disruption of meetings in New York. He was arrested numerous times, because his preaching disturbed the peace. As Joseph prayed to God for guidance in assisting the persecuted Mormons, he received a revelation instructing the members to gather to Ohio, to Kirtland, where the “Law of the Lord” for the Church would be given. Joseph and his family moved once again in January 1831, and resettled in Kirtland, where hundred of converts awaited him. By the summer of 1831, most of the faithful Mormons remaining in New York followed suit.