Who Is The "Community Of Christ"?

by Rocky Hulse

November 2005

I was recently asked the question, "Who is the Community of Christ?" The person asking said that while driving around they had seen signs on churches that had the name "Community of Christ." The short answer to that question is that the "Community of Christ" is the "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," that was commonly referred to as the "RLDS." The Community of Christ (C of C), or RLDS as they used to be known, is the single largest spin-off group of the Mormon Church (LDS) headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

A little history: When Joseph Smith was killed on June 27, 1844, there was not a clear successor to his position as the Prophet of the Mormon Church. There was a huge power vacuum in the Mormon Church leadership. Joseph Smith was the Prophet and Hyrum Smith, his brother, was Co-Prophet and Patriarch of the Mormon Church. The result of their deaths in Carthage, Illinois, left only Sidney Rigdon as the remaining member of the First Presidency.

The book "Quest for Empire - The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History" by Klaus J. Hanson has some very good insight into the question at that time: Who should be Joseph's successor?

"That question, undoubtedly, went through the minds of many Saints as they listened to Sidney Rigdon, who, as sole remaining member of the First Presidency, pleaded before an assembly in Nauvoo that he should be the new oracle or at least the "guardian" of the church until "Young Joseph," Smith's twelve-year-old son, could assume his rightful position in the church, to which he presumably had been appointed by his father." (Quest for Empire, pp. 90-91)

Here we see immediately after Joseph Smith's death, there was a belief that his son, Joseph Smith III, should succeed his father as prophet; however, he was not quite 12 years old at that time. Author Klaus J. Hanson continues concerning the prospects of Sidney Rigdon becoming the temporary successor:

"Most of the Saints, however, turned a deaf ear to the strident voice of the former Campbellite minister whose prestige and popularity with the rank and file had been declining for some time before the death of the prophet—in fact Smith had all but repudiated Rigdon in the spring of 1844." (Quest for Empire, pg. 91)

All of the Council of the Twelve Apostles was immediately recalled to Nauvoo after Joseph and Hyrum's deaths. Author Klaus J. Hanson tells of a most important event on August 8, 1844:

"It was, then, with questions and doubts in their hearts that the Saints of Nauvoo, on August 8, 1844, listened to Brigham Young's carefully reasoned but impassioned plea that the Quorum of the Twelve (of which Young was president) should lead the church. Did this mean that Young was the new prophet, seer, and revelator? That explosive question the new leader avoided for the time being. An uncomfortably large number of Mormons, nevertheless, responded to Young's claims with a resounding No. But many of those who listened to Young's speech suddenly thought that they heard the voice of Joseph and saw the face of the prophet instead. It was a miracle—or so it seemed! Joseph had personally placed his mantle on Brigham. Those who had the vision became as loyal to Young as they had been to Smith—or almost so." (Quest for Empire, pg. 91)

So, many of the Mormons in attendance believed that they heard the voice of Joseph Smith coming from Brigham Young and believed they saw Joseph's face on Brigham's face and therefore it was a vision of Joseph miraculously transferring his mantle of authority to Brigham Young. Brigham hence became the de facto leader of the Church as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was not sustained as the second Prophet of the Church, thereby becoming Joseph's successor, until December 27, 1847, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

When the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City began in February of 1846, there were many Mormons who did not agree that Brigham Young was Joseph's successor and did not follow Brother Brigham. At this juncture in Mormon history there were numerous spin-offs and factions of Mormonism that came into being; each claiming that they were "The only true church on the face of the earth," and that they had the rightful mantle of leadership and Brigham Young did not.

There is a pamphlet published in 1969 by the "Daughters of Utah Pioneers" titled "Denominations that base their beliefs on the teachings of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet." This pamphlet is a very informative piece of literature. It lists some very strange spin-offs of the Mormon Church that I was not aware of. It lists 11 spin-off churches that happened prior to Joseph Smith's death, and after his death it lists about 60 spin-offs; a large number which are still in existence today.

One of those spin-offs that came after Joseph's death is the "RLDS," which now calls itself the "Community of Christ" (C of C). So, how did the RLDS, or now C of C, get started?

As I've already stated, there was a belief in the Mormon Church at the time of Joseph's death that his son, Joseph Smith III, was to be his rightful successor by birthright; but, when Joseph was unexpectedly murdered on June 27, 1844, Joseph the III was not quite 12 years old. Let's look at some additional information supporting the belief of the Mormon Church members at that time that Joseph the III was to be Joseph Smith's successor as the Prophet of the Mormon Church:

"It was then understood among the Saints that young Joseph was to succeed his father,...Joseph, the Prophet, had bestowed that right upon him by ordination, but he was too young at that time to fill the office...Brigham Young arose and roared like a young lion, imitating the style and voice of Joseph, the Prophet. Many of the brethren declared that they saw the mantle of Joseph fall upon him. I myself, at the time, imagined that I saw and heard a strong resemblance to the Prophet in him, and felt that he was the man to lead us until Joseph's legal successor should grow up to manhood, when he should surrender the Presidency to the man who held the birthright." (Confessions of John D. Lee, pg 155)

It is very clear here that John D. Lee, a Mormon Bishop and adopted son of Brigham Young, believed that Joseph the III was, by birthright and ordination, the rightful successor to his father Joseph Smith Jr. Lee believed that when young Joseph reached manhood, Brigham Young would relinquish the reins of the Presidency of the Mormon Church to him.

On June 29, 1856, Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency of the Mormon Church, which placed him in the number two position of power in Mormonism, said the following as recorded in the Journal of Discourses:

"At present the Prophet Joseph's boys lay apparently in a state of slumber, everything seems to be perfectly calm with them, but by and bye God will wake them up, and they will roar like the thunders of Mount Sinai." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pg 6)

As of this date, June 29, 1856, young Joseph was, or was soon to celebrate his 24th birthday. His father Joseph Smith organized the Mormon Church on April 6, 1830 when he was but 24 years old. So, young Joseph was more than old enough to come and assume the reins of leadership in the Mormon Church - Did he? No, he did not.

In the pamphlet I've already mentioned by the "Daughters of Utah Pioneers," is listed an informative narrative on the beginnings of the "RLDS" now "C of C.":

"Jason Briggs joined the church in June, 1841 at Beloit, Wisconsin. For some time after the death of the prophet Jason remained loyal to the Twelve Apostles, but at the time of the expulsion from Nauvoo he rejected Brigham Young and later became a missionary for the James J. Strang church. Near the close of 1850 Briggs left Strang and joined with William Smith, in whose church he became an apostle. One year later Briggs claimed to have received a vision in which the Lord affirmed that "He had not cast off His people, and that they would be redeemed in due time." Briggs claimed that in the vision he was informed the elders were to be diligent "in mine own due time I will call upon the seed of Joseph and will bring forth one mighty and strong and he will preside over the high priesthood of my church."

The New Organization. Zenos H. Gurley, once a senior president of one of the seventies quorums in Nauvoo also joined Strang's church and later claimed to have had a revelation similar to the one Briggs received. These two men met and organized a church from the groups they had converted to the beliefs of Strang. Later, at a conference, it was decided that Joseph Smith III should be the president, basing their decision upon the idea of "lineal descent." Through revelation Jason Briggs was given the authority to preside. A new name was used, New Organization, and in 1853 they offered the presidency to young Joseph Smith who refused to consider it, but by 1859 Joseph was ready to assume his place as successor to his father. At this time they had over 300 members and at a conference held at Plano, Illinois, April 1860, Joseph Smith III was installed as their president. He presided until his death in 1915 when his son Dr. Frederick M. Smith became president. Dr. Smith died in 1946, leaving a document naming his brother Israel as his successor. Israel was followed by a half-brother W. Wallace Smith. ( Denominations that base their beliefs on the teachings of Joseph Smith The Mormon Prophet, pg 33)

The above pamphlet was printed in 1969 when W. Wallace Smith was still President of the RLDS Church. In 1978, W. Wallace Smith, in an unprecedented move, retired and ordained his son, Wallace B. Smith to be the next Prophet of the RLDS Church. He was the President, or Prophet until in 1994 when they ran out of Smith's; no more "lineal descent". He announced after a two year period of preparation that W. Grant McMurray would succeed him as President in 1996. This did happen, and W. Grant McMurray became the 7TH President of the "RLDS" Church. He was the first President of the RLDS Church outside the "Smith" family. Out of the clear blue sky on November 19, 2004, he resigned, stating "personal and family issues" as the reason for his resignation.

At the 2005 World Conference, Stephen M. Veazey was ordained to become the 8TH President-Prophet of the RLDS Church, which at this time had changed its name to the "Community of Christ." As of this writing, November 2005, Stephen M. Veazey is the current Prophet of the C of C; he is not a "Smith" either, because they have run out of "Smith" boys.

As part of my research for this article, I went up on a website called "Answers.com" and typed in "Lineal Succession." Under the RLDS area was a section titled "The Office of the Church President," were the following was listed:

"Other Latter Day Saints living in the Midwest continued to support Lineal Succession and in 1860, they invited Joseph Smith III to become President of their church, known today as the Community of Christ. This church continued to appoint Presidents who were patrilineal descendants of Joseph Smith Jr. until 1996, when President Wallace B. Smith (a great grandson of Mormonism's founder) designated W. Grant McMurray as his successor. Abandonment of Lineal Succession was a factor that caused a recent schism and foundation of several new Latter Day Saint churches, including the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Answers.com, Lineal Succession, The Office of Church President, paragraph 4)

Webster's defines "patrilineal" as follows:

PATRILINEAL - relating to, based on, or tracing descent through the paternal (of or relating to a father) line.

So, the whole premise of the RLDS Church was the belief in "Lineal Succession" which was abandoned in 1996 causing many schisms and new churches to be formed because of this "apostasy" from the truth: Lineal Succession. It should be noted that the Utah Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believed the same thing, that Joseph III, when he reached maturity, would come and take his rightful place as leader of the Mormon Church. Instead, he became the Prophet of the RLDS and now the whole belief in "Lineal Succession" has gone by the wayside.

The RLDS Church, "Officially" changed its name to the "Community of Christ" on April 6, 2001. One of the primary reasons for this change was a desire to distance themselves from the Utah Mormons (LDS). I think the RLDS members used to spend more time telling people who they were "not," as they did trying to tell people who there were.

DIFFERENCES

There are some significant differences between the LDS and the "Community of Christ." The C of C never believed in polygamy; in fact, they have always denied that Joseph Smith ever taught, or participated in, polygamy. This assertion on their part is simply not true; the evidence to the contrary is simply overwhelming that he did teach and did participate in polygamy. There is no doubt that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy in Nauvoo, and prior to coming to Nauvoo. Fawn Brodie, in her book "No Man Knows My History" documents 49 wives for Joseph, and BYU professors concede that he had at least 33. So, the C of C is simply in denial, in spite of the evidence, on this issue.

The C of C denies the whole Mormon Temple Ceremony doctrines. They do not believe in "Baptism for the Dead," or "Celestial Marriage," or "Eternal Progression" (that man can progress to Godhood in the next life).

The C of C's canon is unique. Christianity accepts only the Bible as scripture. The C of C holds three books as scripture:

1. The Bible (Inspired Version (Joseph Smith Translation))

2. The Book of Mormon

3. The Doctrine and Covenants

The C of C fully accepts the "Joseph Smith Translation" of the Bible as scripture. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants that they use are not the same versions as those used by the LDS. The C of C does not accept the "Pearl of Great Price" as scripture as do the LDS.

The C of C believes in continuing revelation and in 1984 they added section 156 to their "Doctrine and Covenants," which announced the building of their Temple in Independence, Missouri, and opened up their "Priesthood" to women. When this was announced it caused a major schism and many new splinter churches were formed as they viewed women holding the priesthood as false prophecy.

The C of C does not believe in the view of God held by the LDS. They do not believe that God is an exalted man; I make this statement with some qualifications: There are some restoration factions in the C of C that say God does have a body of flesh and bones as the LDS Church says Joseph said he saw in his "First Vision" in the year 1820. The C of C holds to an orthodox view of Jesus: He is God incarnate or God in the flesh; born of a virgin. They go way off tangent though and leave orthodox Christianity and the LDS Church (which believes the Holy Ghost is a "personage of spirit") behind with their belief in who, or what, the Holy Ghost is:

1. God is a Spirit (some say he has a body of flesh and bones)

2. Jesus is God incarnate

3. The Holy Spirit is an impersonal force (the "shared mind" and "living presence of the Father and Son")

So, the C of C is out there on their own with their belief in whom, or what, the Holy Ghost is. They don't believe in "original sin." They do not believe that man is born with a "sin-nature" as the Bible says.

I could write many more pages concerning their beliefs that are contrary to God's inerrant word the Bible; but, suffice it to say that they are a spin-off of the Mormon (LDS) Church. They hold to the belief that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, designated to restore "true" Christianity to the earth. They believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture; an ancient book of scripture from the Americas translated by Joseph Smith from plates of gold. They believe their "Doctrines and Covenants" are revelations from God to Joseph Smith and the succeeding prophets of the RLDS/C of C line. They are a false teaching - they are a spin-off cult of Joseph Smith. Their foundation is built on the quicksand of Joseph Smith, not the solid rock of Jesus Christ.

It is an interesting side note here that the RLDS/C of C and the LDS have battled over some issues in court. In the 1870's the LDS Church initiated lawsuits against the RLDS Church asking the courts for title to some of its land, personal property and trying to force the RLDS to change their name. The courts denied their claim (the LDS Church) of being the original Mormon Church. In 1880, an Ohio Court declared the RLDS Church to be the legal owner of Joseph Smith's property, including the first Mormon Temple built, the Kirkland, Ohio Temple

When you enter Nauvoo, Illinois, from the South end of town on Illinois Highway 96, you will see the " Joseph Smith Historic Center," owned and operated by the "Community of Christ." They own the "Mansion House"; the "Red Brick Store"; the "Sidney Rigdon House" and many more original structures. Many of these properties were awarded in the 1870's/80's lawsuits. The Kirkland Temple was the first finished temple that the Mormons built in Kirkland, Ohio. There was an earlier temple started by the Mormon Church in Harmony, Pennsylvania; the foundation was laid for it, but I don't believe its construction ever really got started; in any case, it was never finished and 99.99% of all "Mormons," whatever the flavor, believe the Kirkland Temple to be the first Mormon Temple ever begun.