Your October Conference Prep: Textual Origins of LDS Priesthood Organization, Part XV. Evolution of Discipline.

D&C 107 was a long time in the making and it contains many separate revelations woven together into the whole (and it didn’t finish the story: consider D&C 112 and 124). Witness: The Nov 11 revelation, itself perhaps two separate revelations, the vision of the Seventy, the vision of Adam, the esoterica of bishops, the “book of Enoch” and others. The story is one worth telling, not only to understand the process of revelation, but to understand the way Latter-day Saints speak and how that speech and its understanding were effected by the processes of textual influence.

In spite of the publication of the November 11, 1831 revelation as a “part II” of D&C 107 in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, that was not the end of the line for it. The trial procedures for the president of the high priesthood that appear in the November 1831 revelation (or as it was altered in D&C 107, “a” president of the high priesthood) were given in terms of the common council (see part 3) a bishop plus 12 high priests selected for the purpose.

Two kinds of issues would drive some evolution of the concept:

1) With the deterioration of the economy in Kirtland and the increased criticism of Joseph Smith, Smith was charged with financial duplicity by Lyman Johnson and Orson Pratt. [1]

2) In Far West, Missouri, the excommunication of Oliver Cowdery (a member of the presidency of the high priesthood) took place. Cowdery claimed the court was illegal.

With a first brush with church discipline and with the possibility of others looming, Joseph Smith asked God for clarification. The result was three revelations, given January 12, 1838. Since they are relevant to D&C 107, I give two of them here:

Revelation Given at the French Farm in Kirtland Geauga Co. Ohio. In the presence of J. Smith Jr., S Rigdon V Knight & Geo. W. Robinson January 12th 1838.——–
When inquiry was made of the Lord relative to the trial of the first Presidency of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, For transgressions according to the item of law, found in the Book of Covenants 3rd Section 37 Verse
Whether the descision of such an Council in one Stake, shall be conclusive for Zion and all her stakes

Thus saith the Lord, Let the first Presidency of my Church, be held in full fellowship in Zion and all her stakes, untill they shall be found transgressors, by such an high Council as is named in the above alluded section, in Zion, by three witnesses standing against each member of said Presidency, and these witnesses shall be of long and fathfull standing, and such also as cannot be impeached by other witnesses before such Council, and when a decision is had by such and Council in Zion, it shall only be for Zion, it shall not answer for her stakes, but if such descision be acknowledged by the Council of her stakes, then it shall answer for her stakes, But if it is not acknowledged by the stakes, then such stake may have the privilege of hearing for themselves or if such descision shall be acknowledged by a majority of the stakes, then it shall answer for all her stakes And again,
The Presidency of my Church, may be tried by the voice of the whole body of the Church in Zion, and the voice of a majority of all her stakes And again
Except a majority is had by the voice of the Church of Zion and a majority of all her stakes, the Charges will be considered not sustained and in order to sustain such Charge or Charges, before such Church of Zion or her stakes, such witnesses must be had as in named above, that is the witnesses to each President, who are of long faithfull standing, that cannot be immpeached by other witnesses before the Church of Zion, or her stakes, And all this saith the Lord because of wicked and asspiring Men, Let all your doings be in meekness and in humility before me even so Amen—

The next revelation addressed the possibility of “piling on” in an effort to get a majority to go against the presidency.

Revelation Given the same day January 12th 1838, upon an inquiry being made of the Lord, whether any branch of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints can be considered a stake of Zion, untill they have acknowledged the authority of the first Presidency by a vote of such Church

Thus saith the Lord, Verily I say unto nay you Nay
No stake shall be appointed, except by the first Presidency, and this Presidency be acknowledged, by the voice of the same, otherwise it shall not be counted as a stake of Zion and again except it be dedicated by this presidency it cannot be acknowledged as a stake of Zion, For unto this end have I appointed them in Laying the foundation of and establishing my Kingdom Even so Amen.

These revelations tell us that firing a president of the high priesthood, requires a “Zion” unit to begin the process. Far West evidently filled the bill at the time. What it would be now, is anybody’s guess. The council of stakes then had to approve a conviction apparently. And there could be no stacking the deck. The “council of stakes” suggests the quorum of high councils mentioned in D&C 107 (see the April 28 revelation in part 8) but it could mean a popular vote. In any case, if Kirtland held a common council trial and convicted Joseph and/or Sidney, it wouldn’t be the final voice.[2]

Cowdery’s case may have been different. He was fired in a more mundane way in November 1837 when Joseph simply didn’t have him sustained as a member of the presidency at the same time that Frederick G. Williams was dropped. His subsequent excommunication might be interpreted as legal then. The nature of perseverance of priesthood was not carefully settled as evidenced by Cowdery’s reaction when he heard of D&C 124. The policy of dissolving the presidency upon the death of the president, in force from Brigham Young’s time on, obviated a repeat of the Rigdon situation.[3] One thing is clear: firing Joseph was not the same as firing his counselors!

Rigdon felt he deserved a full blown procedure in Nauvoo, but perhaps since the revelation recognized a popular vote, his case was never heard in an extended way.[4] Nauvoo may have been the Zion unit at the time.

The three revelations were read in church conference in Missouri, and sustained there. But they were lost from view and never made it to publication.[5]

Finally, since the Church is very much an international presence, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, how important are subtleties like this? The semantic haze around these developments thickly obscures the issues in mainstream Church literature (i.e., manuals). Is that important? Probably not, except for someone interested in the development of Mormonism. But it does promote caution in proof texting perhaps! Are the subtle organizational features and evolution preserved, can they be seen in, say, the spanish translation of the D&C? One could expand here, theologically. Interesting questions to me at least.

In the next post, I’ll say something more about the subject.

[1] See Bushman, RSR, 338.

[2] However, the presidency had a push on to create new stakes. See Mary Fielding to her sister, October 7, 1837, CHL. On the other hand, the word “stake” held a broader meaning than we give it today.

[3] Although, “faithful” surviving counselors were still a loose end. At Brigham’s death, the counselors still living, if not taken in by the new presidency and not members of the 12 previously, became “counselors to the Twelve.” A rather odd situation but a kind courtesy position. They continued in this office until death or dishonor. The last such conundrums were Alvin R. Dyer and Thorpe Isaacson at the death David O. McKay. The situation was resolved by dropping them into the “assistants to the Twelve.” Not precisely parity, but not chopped liver either. On Cowdery, his situation could be construed as different than nearly everyone else. Ordained by angels in the (by then) mostly well understood incidents of c1829 (the 1836 matter is discussed in a later part), removing Cowdery’s authority may have seemed problematic, at least to him.

[4] This seems to have been Brigham Young’s view. The question of whether Rigdon was still a president of the high priesthood was tied to the March 1833 revelation (D&C 90). His tenure by that measurement may have been over. And Rigdon was cut loose from the presidency in 1832 for making wild claims–how that played into 1844 thinking was important to some at least. Brigham Young expressed the idea that if Rigdon wanted to be spokesman for Joseph, he would have to go where Joseph was (but see note 3).

[5] While technically the three revelations are canon (or were) their relevance seems dated. The 1850s Utah historians mentioned the sustaining of the revelations in the ms history, and that was repeated in the Roberts’ edited History of the Church, but by then no one knew the text of the revelations or their whereabouts. Roberts thought they had been lost in the travails of the church. They were rediscovered by Max Parkin and Dean Jessee in the 1980s. Better tip them in to your D&C! I did.

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