Luke S. Johnson was one of the first Mormon missionaries. He was born in 1807 in Vermont, but moved to Ohio in 1826. His parents, who were Methodists, were introduced to the religion of the Mormons there and began studying the new faith. They invited Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, to live in their home during the years 1830 and 1831, as he worked on a new translation of the Bible. His mother was healed of her arthritis by Joseph Smith, who gave her a blessing of healing. This attracted some attention locally. Luke became a Mormon in 1831 and shortly thereafter left to serve a mission in Southern Ohio with Robert Rathburn. They were able to organize a branch (a small congregation) there and more in New Portage, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, working with Sidney Rigdon. He served missions to Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia in 1832 and 1833, setting up many new church branches. He married in 1833 while in Virginia.
The following year he became a member of the first High Council and then traveled with Zion’s Army to try to effect a peaceful rescue of Mormons under attack by mobs in Missouri. Although the group did not achieve its goal, many future church leaders came from this group of courageous volunteers, including Luke S. Johnson. In 1835, at the age of just 27, he was chosen to be an apostle. He spent his first summer in that position traveling in the east, establishing new congregations and carrying out church work. After returning from additional missions to Canada and New York, he saved the prophet Joseph Smith from death or persecution several times.
Unfortunately, the next year his commitment to the church became a bit shakier. He got upset when Joseph Smith needed to offer some chastisement to certain members who were not doing what they were supposed to be doing. Then he got caught up in financial speculation along with some other church members who had grown tired of the poverty that came with constantly abandoning all you had to escape persecution. He, along with others, tried to remove Joseph Smith as the prophet, wanting to replace him with David Whitmer. However, those who left the church could not even cooperate with each other and ended up battling one another as well, failing to establish any new religious movement. Thirteen percent of the members left at this time, but some returned later. Luke wrote later, “My mind became darkened, and I was left to pursue my own course. I lost the Spirit of God, and neglected my duty; the consequence was, that at a Conference held in Kirtland, September 3, 1837, … I was cut off from the Church.”
He and two others were disfellowshipped at the conference, but he asked to be reinstated the next Sunday. His request was accepted, but in April of 1838, he was excommunicated for apostasy due to continuing poor choices.
He began to teach school and then decided to study to become a doctor. In 1846, he returned to Kirtland, Ohio, where the Mormons lived, and set up practice. He had stayed on good terms with the church, despite not being a member, and so his request for rebaptism and restored membership was granted in March of that year.
When the Mormons emigrated to Utah, he traveled with them and became the first bishop in Toole County. He died in 1861, a member in full standing.
Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
Called and Chosen, James A. Faust, October General Conference, 2005
A Warning From Kirtland, Milton V. Backman, Jr., Ensign, 1989
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.