Does size matter?

It must be tough sometimes to be a non-Mormon Mormon. Let’s say you are a Strangite. Someone asks you what your religion is. "I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints", you reply. (You probably don’t say, "I’m a Strangite".) Isn’t that the Mormon Church? "No. We believe that Joseph Smith’s true successor was James Strang". How many people belong to your church? "A few hundred". Oh.

Does size matter? Imagine for a moment that Brigham Young was not Joseph Smith’s authorized heir. Imagine also that you still believe in the divine nature of the Restoration. If you reject the Utah Church, you would then be left with two choices:

1. Despite its divine origins the church apostatized and I can lie in bed on Sunday mornings.

2. The true church is to be found among one of the many Mormon schismatic groups.

If you choose #2, here is the major dilemma as I see it:

(Disclaimer: As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints how "I see it" is precisely that — it’s my own perspective influenced by my own religious paradigm. But what can I do?)

The other Restoration groups simply do not clamour for my attention. The Community of Christ (RLDS) is a nice Protestant church, but frankly I prefer the Anglicans. The other groups are for the most part either Right Wing wackos or utterly irrelevant.

And there’s the clincher: irrelevant. If I believe that God spoke to Joseph Smith and instituted through him the Restoration of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ; if I believe that said Restoration is necessary for the salvation of the world; if I believe that the church is the kingdom of God destined to fill the world; and if I believe that James Strang/Sidney Rigdon/Joseph Smith III/BLANK was God’s chosen instrument to continue Joseph’s work; then I would have to conclude that the Church had utterly failed and I can stay in bed on Sunday after all.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by a million miles the only Mormon group with a hope in heck of fulfilling the Millennial mission upon which the Restoration was predicated. Size does matter. So forget Brigham’s "transfiguration" and everything else: the proof is in the pudding. We’re bigger than you. And as all good Americans know, bigger really is better.


  1. If God really has a Prophet, it must then be the Pope.

  2. Good point J. Size doesn’t solve everything. But the assumption was:

    1. IF the Restoration “is true”
    2. Then the LDS church, being the most successful in doing what the Restoration is supposed to be doing (i.e. building a strong, international kingdom of God), is the Restoration.

  3. Ronan, it’s not the size, it’s the girth, as they say.

    Mormons aren’t populous, but we are for the most part enormous, therefore we’re more true, pound for pound.

    But in all seriousness, isn’t it in the scriptures that the number of true followers of Christ in the last days would be very small?

  4. The Stangites claim smallness is a fulfillment of prophecy. Of course what else can they claim? I don’t think that size is indicative of truthfulness any more than chiasmus is. Who knows what things will look like in 100 years? The church started off with 6 members.

  5. I couldn’t resist. The biggest problem with schismatic groups is their general incoherency. The vast majority of them, now confronted with the New Mormon History have simply rolled over – Joseph Smith was not inspired to do all that stuff (aka a fallen prophet).

    Here is a list of 150 or so schismatic groups (though I don’t know how reliable it is). Most are simply goofy. If they aren’t tepid on the Prophet, they are covenant breakers.

    I do have an acquaintance that is RRLDS (they are waiting for another restoration) and though I’m not sure of his views on the Prophet, they seem to be pretty solid.

  6. Nephi sees a vision of the Saints, and they are few in number. True. But what about the stone cut out of the mountain that filled the Earth?

  7. Ronan, the stone doesn’t fill the Earth until the 2nd coming, or so I thought.

    It’s fun, though, to pit prophecies and visions against each other.

  8. Clearly there is only one way to settle the issue–a basketball tournament.

  9. Jared,

    While I would love to see it, I think they’ve already rejected your idea:
    If you were looking for famous ball players and other modern celebrities, you will not find them here.

  10. A few years back I toured the Kirtland Temple. My friend and I were trying to figure out how many members the RLDS had and thought it was in the millions. We asked the RLDS tour guide and he said, “nearly a quarter million.” We started laughing out loud. I think we hurt his feelings.

  11. Of course, it’s the Great and Abominable Church, the Great and Spacious Building, and the Great Whore of Babylon. So maybe great does not mean good. Time to join the Strangites it is then.

  12. The stone that fills the earth does not come from legitimate scripture. Daniel was not canonized by the Jews until the 2nd century AD, far past the time that their priesthood authority could be used to authorize such decisions.

    By the way, Hajicek is the Strangite who runs He also runs, which has an entire first edition, first printing 1830 Palmyra Book of Mormon online. He’s a very smart guy and a very effective researcher, but he’s got some weird theories. One essay on his sight alleges that Brigham Young had the Nauvoo Temple burnt down.

    Interestingly, Strange translated his own set of golden plates. He had a lot more than 11 witnesses to them, including some well known journalists of the time. And the result seems at least as plausible as the Book of Mormon. Big Bonus for Strangites: they don’t have to pay tithes, because (as I recall) there is no legitimate priesthood leadership on the planet to accept them (though there is priesthood, there’s just not qualified leadership to appoint leaders among priesthood holders).

  13. Size doesn’t matter when evaluating truth claims. The Church was true even when it didn’t have any members :)

    (How’s that for conservative? :)

  14. And Platonic, too, Ben.

  15. Ben — does size really not matter when evaluating truth claims?

  16. I don’t think so. Why aren’t we all Muslim?

    Other obvious points- That vast majorities of people believe x to be true in no way affects the truth value of x, whether that’s relativity or the flat-earth.

    Do scientists require a theory to be believed by a certain number of people before they’ll evaluate it? Or accept it as valid.

    I think your average Joe sometimes seeks validation in numbers. It’s nice to know that other people think your theory/religion/book/blog is important or good or useful or accurate. But it’s not a necessity.

  17. Arturo, you say that Daniel is not scripture simply because the Jews did not cannonize it until the 2nd century AD…and yet the gospels say that Jesus referred to Daniel’s prophesy of the Abomination of Desolation, and explicitly called him a prophet (Matt 24:15,Mark 13:14,Joseph Smith Matthew 1:12,32)

    I think that the authority of Jesus and that of Joseph Smith is enough to establish Daniel as legitimate scripture, regardless of when the Jews connonized it and whether they possessed authority to do so at the time.

  18. Arturo, you say that Daniel is not scripture simply because the Jews did not cannonize it until the 2nd century AD…and yet the gospels say that Jesus referred to Daniel’s prophesy of the Abomination of Desolation, and explicitly called him a prophet (Matt 24:15,Mark 13:14,Joseph Smith Matthew 1:12,32)

    I think that the authority of Jesus and that of Joseph Smith is enough to establish Daniel as legitimate scripture, regardless of when the Jews connonized it and whether they possessed authority to do so at the time.

  19. Last Lemming says:

    With regard to truth claims, my personal definition of a “true church” is one that can deliver what it promises. If it were true that you can be saved by accepting Jesus as your Savior, then the size of a Church promising that would be irrelevent

    If a church promises to establish Zion, however, then size could be very relevent, as a small Zion would be unable to fulfill the prophecies about it. Therefore, size matters to the Latter-day Saints, but not to the Baptists.

  20. Well, this is easy for us to say, we’re the big church. The Strangite page has its own section explaining (with various scriptural references) why the true church is _not_ big.


    I think that one can make a scriptural case for a small church just as well as a big church. We’re more culturally inclined one way, they are more inclined another way.

  21. Aaron Brown says:

    I don’t think size “should” matter in any logical way, but I think it “does” matter to us psychologically in all sorts of ways. Think how much we like to impress each other with talk of “12 million members!” (although this has more to do with impressive rates of growth than it does absolute numbers, I suppose). Also, think about the whole “X million members can’t be wrong about the Book of Mormon” mentality that is sometimes voiced.

    I suspect that the pitifully small numbers of adherents to other post-Restoration offshoot churches is something we use to tell ourselves that these other sects can’t possibly ever be taken seriously, all other things being equal (which admittedly, they’re not). Although honesty should compel us to recognize that this doesn’t really make any sense. While on my mission in Argentina, my companions and I would often pass by little Churches — mudhuts really –that had the name of the congregation scrawled on the door outside. I imagined that these were just isolated “Christian” congretations, with nothing more than a handful of members from the surrounding houses, and without any affiliation with any larger institutional body. I often liked to turn to my companion, and say to him in a deadly serious voice: “Elder, look at that Church over there. You know what I think? I think THAT’S actually the “True Church.” My companion usually wouldn’t think that was funny, but I always thought it was. In retrospect, I think my reason, even if unarticulated, was that “There’s just no way some isolated, ramshackle edifice with a handful of impoverished parishoners could ever make any serious claim to being the Real Deal!” But the more I think about it, the less my intuition really makes sense.

    The size of the LDS Church, relative to that of Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., makes President Hinckley’s influence in the greater World fairly limited in practice. It is often pointed out that this explains the apparent insularity of the Church; one would think that God’s Prophet would direct his attentions more frequently to problems in the outside world, than to preoccupations about internal issues. But that’s another issue so I’ll shut up.

    Aaron B

  22. Jonathan Max Wilson, the issue of whether Daniel is a prophet is a separate issue from whether the Book of Daniel is anything like a legitimate version of his record. It certainly was tradition in the first century AD that the Book of Daniel was legitimate–its canonization reflected this tradition. But this tradition means (a) people quoted it, (b) it was not scripture at the time that they were quoting it, and (c) it later became scripture based on the strength of the tradition. The strength of a tradition, however, is a poor reason indeed for canonizing something.

    Also, there are at least a few apocryphal works that are sited in the New Testament. It’s a bit like Gordon B. Hinckley quoting from Church History or Lucy Mack Smith’s memiors.

  23. Tom Manney says:

    I’m not sure we have any idea what “filling the whole earth” will look like, I honestly question whether we’ll even recognize the millenial church that fills the whole earth.

    When people pray to Hindu/Buddhist gods, does Elohim hear and answer their prayers? What about Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants? Are 99% of God’s children consigned to lives cut off from all contact with true deity?

    The same argument that science geeks use to justify extreterrestrial life — the odds that we are the only sentient beings in a vast universe are too slim to be acceptable — compel me to conclude that the odds that I was born into the only church with a monopoly on the truth, despite its slim numbers now and throughout history, are just as slim.

    In other words, I don’t assume to know how God works, but I have a feeling that other religions have truths that we overlook in Mormonism. There was an interesting discussion at BCC a few months ago that found possible common ground between Mormonism and reincarnation, for example. Or maybe the odds are that slim. Maybe I am that lucky. But I doubt it. I accept that the Mormon priesthood may be the only organization that has the power to administer the saving ordinances, and that every knee shall bow to the Christ, but I don’t know that the vast unwashed will regard Christ as I do. He will probably seem like an incarnation of Buddhist or Hindu faith to those of that background.

    But just to stir the pot a little more, it’s worth pointing out that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t the most exlusive echelon of true religious membership in the world. Within the church, there is the church of the endowed. And within that there is the Church of the Firstborn (or maybe the endowed and the Church of the Firstborn are the same thing — I’m no theologian). And maybe within that there is the church of the prophets and the church of those who hold major priesthood keys. I have no idea.

    My point is that I am highly suspicious of any discussion in which Mormons pride themselves on having the fulness of the truth, no matter how small their numbers. On the one hand, I think God is a lot more flexible toward the masses who have little or no contact with Mormonism or even Christianity, and on the other hand, I think most of us have a long way to go even within our own faith before we can claim to be members of the “true church.”

  24. Tom Manney says:

    My apologies, by the way, if my post was a little off-topic. It’s an issue that has been bugging me and I took the first opportunity I had to get it off my hairy chest. Just to bring it back to the discussion at hand, I’m not sure 10 or 12 million in a planet of 6 billion people is all that much to get worked up about. Yes, we have a global presence (if you’re willing to count the 2.5-3 billion people in India, China, and Muslim nations where we have virtually no presence at all), but we don’t have numbers to get excited about.

  25. I’ve thought along similar lines at Tom. It’s interesting how many similarities there are between the world religions, even non-Christian religions. I have a good friend that happens to be a devout Buddhist and he talks about looking forward to the appearance of the seventh Buddha that will usher in world peace.

    When Christ appears the Christians will see him as Christ, the Jews will see him as the messiah, Buddhists will see Buddha, Muslims will se Allah, etc. and they’ll ALL be right. I’m not discounting the importance of the restoration though. I’m only emphasizing the fact that we don’t have a monopoly on truth.

    At last years FAIR conference one of the speakers, a former Protestant minister, I think, spoke about this topic and the fact that he was guided by the spirit as a minister before he converted to the LDS church. His point was that people outside our church can have their prayers answered by God and can be lead by the spirit and have doctrinal truths.

    Regarding the topic at hand, the “fruits” of our church (growth, world influence, and fulfillment of prophecy) support my faith (but I’m biased) that Brigham Young was the correct successor to Joseph Smith. It’s also interesting to me that D&C section 115, which is still used by the Community of Christ and other Restoration groups, says in verse 4, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

  26. Quakers and Mennonites aren’t exactly the biggest sects in the world….yet we see how influential they are.

    The point about size mattering…of course, size matters depending on your objectives. If you want to build “Zion” then perhaps your objective needs to be to build out in such a way as to produce a full fledged metropolitain region with a suitably diverse social economy to match. The Community of Christ, if so inclined could make great headway in this direction if it were so inclined. Obviously the LDS Church, if so inclined could do so as well…and has a lot of interesting infrastructure with which to do it! LDS people just need to get past that accomodation to Babylon known as Capitalism.

    My personal opinion is that the Lord can make of the stones children of Abraham. The question we in the Mormon-wing of the Restoration Movement should ask is not whether our particular brand is the “true church” but rather we are being and/or becoming a true church. Irrespective of where the “keys” actually are maintained (Rome? SLC? Independence? Which street in Independence? Voree? Constantinople? Canterbury?), the Lord is quite able to validate all things He has inspired in all churches, including schismatic organizations like the LDS Church ;)…and He no doubt has the authority to reward such a body with an authority that sets all things in order.

    Of course, to our LDS brethren and sistren [sic] that rejoice in your long membership roll….the Book of Mormon is truly a great tool of evangelism…and the way the LDS Church evangelises…well…lemme say it kinda doesn’t rock and roll at all. What if a few Baptists and Pentacostal folk got a hold of the Book of Mormon…where would their evangelistic fervor take the Book of Mormon? Beyond 12 Million, that’s for sure.

    Alan, the R-adical L-atter D-ay S-aint and all round good Communitarian
    Economic Democracy for the Americas

  27. When Christ appears the Christians will see him as Christ, the Jews will see him as the messiah, Buddhists will see Buddha, Muslims will se Allah, etc. and they’ll ALL be right.

    And when the athiests see him either as a wise mortal teacher, or as a charlatan, will they be right, too? (I think so.)

  28. Trenden: When Christ appears the Christians will see him as Christ, the Jews will see him as the messiah, Buddhists will see Buddha, Muslims will se Allah, etc. and they’ll ALL be right.

    Yes, and to the Peyote Way Mormons, he’ll be an hallucination. (If you dig deep enough in their site, you’ll see that they call Joseph Smith their founder.)

  29. What about size versus influence? I mean, we are now (by some measures) nearly twice as numerous as the Jews, but I don’t think we have anything near the influence. The Jews, truly, have had an amazing influence that validates (from one point of view at least, and one which I share) the notion that they are on some level special, chosen people.

    For our size (there was just a press release trumpted on claiming we are the 4th largest denomination in the USA), I actually think we are punching below our weight. I think we are not living up to the Lord’s expectations for Zion and His People.

    LDS representation at the top of most professions (business, politics) is no greater than you would expect by chance. Not to mention our almost complete absence in other areas, like creative fields. Why is this so? Are we too busy Home Teaching and making centerpieces for our lessons to make friends with the “mammon of unrighteousness”? Or are we too seduced by the dreams of easy wealth via NuSkin and other multi-level get-rich-quick schemes to put in the work and determination to claw our way to the top?

    Or maybe my priorities and criteria are misplaced, and we’re not supposed to have an impact on the world at large?

  30. This whole discussion reminds me of an essay by William Golding (I may have the name wrong, but it’s the guy who wrote The Lord of The Flies). He dismisses the size argument with the fact that if the numbers were all that mattered, it would be the Hindu’s or Buddhists the would have to be correct.

    On the other hand, I believe it was Pres. Harold B. Lee (see the priesthood manual of his teachings) who taught that the growth and size and prosperity of the church is one sign that it is the true church.

  31. Zerin Hood: I believe it was Pres. Harold B. Lee… who taught that the growth and size and prosperity of the church is one sign that it is the true church.

    Maybe that’s why he got whacked.

  32. Art:

    I wasn’t aware that Pres. Lee was “whacked.”

    Did the mafia take responsibility?

  33. Sorry Zerin, I thought it was common knowledge. Church Legend has it that the Lord controls who becomes prophets by calling Apostle’s back to heaven at appropriate times. Church legend also has it that since the prophet cannot lead the church astray, the Lord removes him from mortality if he is going to do something wrong. Since Lee came into the presidency as a comparatively young and vigorous man, he was expected to serve for a long, long time. When he died shortly thereafter, some people speculated that the Lord had intervened to keep the church on the straight and narrow course. Presumably, this meant making sure that Spencer Kimball was there to purchase the salamander forgeries, but in the end, nobody knows. Anyway, my saying that he got “whacked” was a joke about his dim church legend from times past.

  34. Art,

    I’m aware of all of that — I just wasn’t sure if you were kidding or serious. (As for me and my house, we are never serious).

  35. Zerin Hood: As for me and my house, we are never serious

    LOL. Good choice.

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