1835: Two Church Centers
Formation of the Quorums of the Twelve and Seventy
On February 14, 1835, the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon (David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery) were charged with selecting the Twelve Apostles. They chose Lyman Johnson, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, David Patten, Luke Johnson, William McLellin, John Boynton, Orson Pratt, William Smith, Thomas Marsh, and Parley Pratt. Shortly afterwards, they selected the first members of the Quorum of Seventy. All of these men, mostly drawn from the members of Zion’s Camp, were ordained and ultimately would assume the leadership of the Mormon Church after Joseph Smith’s death.
Obtaining of the Book of Abraham
After the quorums were organized, missionary work increased. During the next few months, as the twelve apostles left on missions, Joseph remained in Kirtland, helping with temple construction. That July, a traveling showman named Michael H. Chandler arrived in Kirtland with four mummies and several rolls of papyrus. Chandler had somehow obtained them from an Italian explorer and amateur archaeologist named Antonio Sebolo, who found them in 1831 near the ancient city of Thebes. Chandler, having heard that Joseph Smith was known for translating ancient documents, came to Kirtland to meet him. As Joseph Smith examined the papyri, he recognized their immense value. The Saints in Kirtland pooled their money and bought the papyri, along with the four mummies Chandler sold them. Joseph spent the next few months studying and translating the papyri, which he soon realized contained some of the writings of Abraham the patriarch and of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. He completed most of the translation by November of 1835 and hired two men to make prints of the drawings from the scrolls. Ultimately, the translation would be published as the Book of Abraham.
Dedication of the Kirtland Temple
The Saints in Kirtland were finally able to complete the temple, and on March 27, 1836, it was dedicated. Saints were gathering hours before the doors were opened. Between 900 and 1,000 Church members sat in the temple, and there were still hundreds who could not fit. Scriptures were read and hymns were sung. Sidney Rigdon spoke for a long time, and addressed the Saints as he recalled the sacrifices they had made to ensure the temple was completed. Joseph Smith recorded,
“He [Rigdon] was then taking a retrospective view of the toils, privations, and anxieties of those who had labored upon the walls of the house to erect them; and added, there were those who had wet them with their tears, in the silent shades of night, while they were praying to the God of heaven to protect them, and stay the unhallowed hands of ruthless spoilers, who had uttered a prophecy, when the foundation was laid, that the walls would never be reared.”
Joseph Smith offered the dedicatory prayer, which he had received by revelation, and which is now contained in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 109. Many Church officers spoke throughout the meeting, and in the evening Joseph met with the priesthood quorums.
“George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy,” records Joseph, “when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon 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. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing and unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place. This continued until the meeting closed at eleven p.m.” The Lord had accepted the sacrifices of his people and the building they had made at his instruction.
The Kirtland Safety Society and Apostasy in Kirtland
In November 1836, several leading members of the Mormon Church, including Joseph Smith, established a type of bank called the Kirtland Safety Society. The Ohio State legislature refused to grant the bank a charter. Acting on counsel from their lawyers, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and several others reformed the society as an anti-banking society which permitted them to issue notes. Financial troubles caused by rampant speculation and a nationwide panic in 1837 led to the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society. Many blamed Joseph Smith for the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society and called him a fallen prophet.
When some angry Church leaders falsely accused Joseph and other leaders of all kinds of faults, they were excommunicated. Excommunicated leaders included two of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, both of whom were excommunicated in 1838. Neither man ever denied his testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, nor the method of its discovery and translation. Oliver Cowdery returned to full membership in the Church in 1848. Though David Whitmer never returned to Church membership, he gave a final testimony of the Book of Mormon at the end of his life.
Some embittered former members stirred up persecution against the Church in the surrounding counties, which some of them had been doing even before they were excommunicated.
The First Foreign Mission
In 1837, in the wake of turmoil that had been caused by the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, Apostle Heber C. Kimball was called to serve a mission to England, the first foreign mission of the Mormon Church. Elder Kimball was stunned by his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and was now overwhelmed. Heber’s grandson gives a personal account of Elder Kimball’s feelings at this time. Despite the challenges that lay ahead, and his feelings of inadequacy, Elder Kimball accepted the call and led a very successful mission to England. He was accompanied by Apostle Orson Hyde and Elder Willard Richards.
Joseph Smith’s decision to send his loyal apostles to Europe on missions is an indication of the way he was counseled by the Lord. It was wholly illogical, during this time of general apostasy, to send his loyal supporters away. However, the European converts transformed the Church, becoming the backbone of its most loyal membership.