1831: Building the Church

Building of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio

Persecution dogged the Mormons in New York. The small Church of Christ continued to grow after its organization in New York in 1830, and late that year, Joseph Smith received a revelation from God commanding him and the other Mormons to move to Kirtland, Ohio, where a strong congregation had sprung up. The purpose of gathering was to build a stronger foundation for a fledgling church striving to grow.

In January 1831, Joseph Smith and some Church members from New York arrived in Kirtland and greeted the new converts in Ohio. Feelings amongst Church members were warm and full of friendship. Each new convert believed in the calling of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, and wanted to do all they could to help build up the kingdom of God. Immediately, Joseph and the other leaders began organizing the Church. In May that year, the other Mormons from New York came to Kirtland. This small town near Cleveland became the headquarters of the Church from January 1831 to December 1837.

A black and white photograph of the Kirtland countryside. The Kirtland period is one of the most important periods in Mormon history, because during this time Joseph Smith received several revelations from God inspiring him on certain points of doctrine and fine points of Church organization. Joseph turned to God in prayer constantly. Reading the revelations that were given to him at this time is touching, because one can see his humility and earnest desire to do God’s wishes. It is also inspiring to see that the Lord communicated with other members of the Church through Joseph. This communication reminds each of us that God and his son, Jesus Christ, know each of us as individuals and are concerned with each of our lives.

Edward Partridge had been a seeker from his youth.  He sought a religion that was what the true gospel should be according to the Bible.  He was baptized on December 11, 1830, by Joseph Smith. Just two months later, Edward was asked to be the first Mormon bishop. Edward ultimately sacrificed much to help lead members of this new church and suffered much persecution, which is outlined in more detail below.

Joseph and Emma Lose Their Twins and Adopt the Murdock Twins

On April 30, 1831, Emma Smith gave birth to twins, who died after only three hours. The wife of a man in the neighborhood, John Murdock, gave birth to twins on the same date, but died shortly thereafter. Joseph and Emma decided to adopt the Murdock twins, hoping they would comfort Emma after the loss of her two children. They took the twins in when they were nine days old, and Joseph and Emma cared for the children.

Jackson County, Missouri, to Be Gathering Place of Zion

In July of 1831, a revelation commanded Joseph Smith and others to go to Missouri. There the Lord revealed that Jackson County was the center place for the gathering of the Mormon Church. The Church was still small, and gathering together was essential to help sustain the Church as well as its members. Immediately, the Mormon Church bought lands in Jackson County, and many Mormons began migrating there. Edward Partridge was assigned to stay in Missouri and lead the Church there. Newell K. Whitney became bishop in Kirtland. The Lord commanded the Mormons to buy land and divide it amongst the poor, so that everyone could have a place of inheritance. All the poor among them were helped. The system developed here to help all of the members, was called the United Order, under which those involved agreed to live the Law of Consecration.

Compiling the Doctrine and Covenants and Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible

In November, the Mormons in Ohio began to collect and assemble revelations which Joseph Smith had received for the Church, into one volume, which would later be called the Doctrine and Covenants.  The original name for the compilation was the Book of Commandments. The different chapters of the Doctrine and Covenants are referred to as “sections.” At this time Joseph Smith also received two more revelations: that later became Sections 1 and 133. Section 1 was revealed as the preface to the Book of Commandments; the other, now section 133, was a revelation about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The preface to the Doctrine and Covenants is unique among all prefaces ever written, since it was written by Jesus Christ Himself.

Local newspapers condemned and deplored the Mormons, but this did not stop the Church’s growth, as hundreds gathered in Kirtland. Joseph Smith received a new commandment from the Lord, even as missionaries continued to preach throughout Ohio and Canada. Joseph had already begun a revision, or translation as he called it, of the Bible. The Lord commanded him to translate the New Testament anew using the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The purpose was to restore many “plain and precious things” (1 Nephi 13:29) which had been lost in translation or had been taken out by evil men over the years. Contrary to popular belief, the Mormons use a standard version of the Bible (the King James Version), not Joseph Smith’s revision. However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does print their own edition of the King James Version, with footnotes and cross references to their other standard works.  Included in the footnotes are some of the revisions from Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible. Most of Joseph’s revisions are minor, simply changing or adding a word or phrase. Though they are small changes, however, they provide clarity and truth to sections that were filled with ambiguity due to changes made over the years.

Joseph Smith worked on this translation while also striving to organize the newly-formed Church. He needed to appoint other leaders through a system that would help govern the entire Church in order to benefit all the members, delegate some of his own responsibilities, and create order. In June of 1831, the first men were ordained to become high priests. The duties and offices of the priesthood, which is the power and authority to act in God’s name, were more fully explained by the Lord as Joseph Smith received more revelations.

Revelation Commands Mormons to Build Temple in Kirtland

In Ohio, the Mormons continued to establish homes and businesses. A revelation received in July of 1831, commanded them to build the first Mormon temple, a house of God, in Kirtland. On August 3, 1831, Joseph Smith dedicated the land where the temple was to be built. However, it took another two years before the cornerstones were even laid. Joseph received another revelation from the Lord on June 1, 1833, which reprimanded the Church members for having procrastinated the building of the temple. Joseph and other Church leaders sent out a letter to all Church members requesting each member give all he or she could temporally to the building of the House of the Lord. Finally, on July 23, 1833, the cornerstones were laid for the Kirtland Temple. On August 2 Joseph received a revelation which set forth the blessings that the Church members would receive by having a temple. It was finally completed and then dedicated on March 27, 1836, after which the Lord poured out blessings on the Saints.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the Mormons building the Kirtland Temple was money. The members were all very poor and they had to sacrifice a great deal. Joseph recognized the blessings through their trials, however: “Great preparations were making to commence a house of the Lord; and notwithstanding the Church was poor, yet our unity, harmony and charity abounded to strengthen us to do the commandments of God.”

Continue to Two Church Centers: 1832–1834

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