Vol. 8, No. 9, 1991

Articles on Mormonism

Do The Reorganized Need to Reorganize?

Colleen Ralson

As early as 1831, one year after Joseph Smith, Jr., and a handful of followers organized the Church of Christ (later changed to the Latter Day Saints and then still later to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), rival factions began to arise, each claiming to be the only "true" church. Some quickly disbanded while others have survived and new off-shoots continue to come into existence even today.

It is still argued whether Smith had indeed designated an heir to succeed him as Prophet after his death. Upon Smith's demise in 1844, it appeared that the church was left without leadership. But not for long. Several aspiring prophets stepped forward claiming that God or some heavenly messenger had told them that the mantle had fallen upon them.

Each of these new "prophets" gathered segments of Joseph's flock and many dispersed to set up new Zions elsewhere. The largest group, even though it was less than half of the Saints in Nauvoo, followed Brigham Young on the migration headed to "the original destination was California" (Restoration, April 1987, p. 8), but stopped and settled what in now Utah, and are known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons).

The second largest group, which is known as The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) did not officially organize until 1860 when Joseph Smith III grew up and was ready to step in as his father's successor. Today their headquarters are in Independence, Missouri.

Both church groups went under the same name until the second group added the word "Reorganized" in 1872 (Saints Herald, 19 March 1972, p. 6). They added the word, even though the proper name had been given by "revelation." But, as David M. Price, and Elder in the Restorationist movement explains it, "Note that none of the words in the Church's name, which God had commanded, were removed - only a qualifying word was added" (Vision #4, Spring 1990, p. 9).

Price also maintains that by adding the word "Reorganized," this protected the property of the RLDS when the United States government seized all property of the Church in Utah because of the issue of polygamy. Many people today are still unaware that after the Utah Church issued the Manifesto prohibiting polygamy that the Government did return all the properties to the Utah group.

What Is The Difference?

The two largest church groups, the LDS and the RLDS, differ on several issues such as prophet succession, their Doctrine and Covenants (a book they both hold to be scripture) have variations, and the RLDS hold to the Inspired Version of the Bible, which Joseph Smith supposedly "translated." While the LDS sometimes quote from and use what they call "Joseph Smith's Translation" (the same Inspired Version) they generally use the King James Version of the Bible, even though they doubt that it is translated correctly.

Other divergent points between the two church groups is the conflicting views of God. The RLDS do not hold to the belief that God was once a man, as the LDS do. The RLDS dispute the idea that Adam was divine, where the LDS (although they now disclaim it) did once teach the Adam-God doctrine.

The RLDS maintain, despite unrefuted documentation, that Joseph Smith never taught or practiced polygamy. The Reorganized group claim that they never believed or practiced secret temple rites as do the LDS. All of the RLDS services have always been open to the public.

The interpretation of tithing is understood differently by both groups. The LDS require a ten percent of gross earnings where the RLDS think ten percent of one's net income after all obligations are met, is all that is expected.

Both churches have different perceptions of the location of Zion. The Utah church has designated Utah as such, where the RLDS hold to the position that Zion is Missouri as was designated originally as "the gathering place."

Heresy in the Hierarchy

In the 1970's the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began to experience what many lay members considered to be serious problems with the hierarchy of the church trying to change the church. The main changes were "a major shift in the General Church teachings a de-emphasis of the Book of Mormon, the Second Advent and celestial life in favor of more conventional Protestant-like Christianity" (Saints Herald, January 1974, p. 52).

In 1974 the First Presidency began to allow open communion, which did not set well with many members. The Church also began to use a more ecumenical curriculum for their church schools, which did not teach about Joseph Smith or their three Standards books.

Then in January 1979, at the RLDS Church Auditorium, what is known as the "Presidential Papers" were presented to appointees, executives and their wives. First President Wallace B. Smith asked those in attendance to "maintain their confidentiality" of these papers because of the "sensitive topics" which had been discussed" (Presidential Papers, introduction).

A letter went out dated January 22, 1979 from President Howard Sheeky again asking that the materials be kept secret. However, some of the appointees disagreed with this secrecy and gave a copy of the papers to some of those opposing the hierarchy and they published them (Ibid).

These papers were supposed to be blueprints of the theology and actions that the church would take in the 1980's. But they contain some very strange statements. One man's summary of these papers states they included such heresies as: "The apostasy and the Restoration were not events that happened" (Ibid, p. 28).

"It is demonic to insist that the Book of Mormon is true," (p. 29); "Other churches have as much authority as the RLDS Church" (p. 35); "RLDS should not be isolated and should join the World Council of Churches" (p. 14-15).

Then in 1984 the hierarchy of the RLDS Church introduced the doctrine of women holding the priesthood and began to ordain women. Some RLDS watchers thought this was perhaps due to the fact that Wallace B. Smith, the current president, did not have a male heir to succeed him as the next Prophet and was assuring that the position would stay in the family. Most RLDS deny it, however.

Whatever the reasons, many of the faithful RLDS do not agree, and the attendance in the worship services have dropped "seventy-five percent, and financial contributions have become critically low" (Staying in the RLDS Church, p. 3).

Several men began to publish literature which defended the original beliefs of the RLDS Church and were excommunicated. Some began to start what they call "Restoration Branches." They claim they are still the "true church" and that the RLDS hierarchy has apostatized and is leading the church astray. They are calling all RLDS members to cling to their original teachings and to not go the way of the liberals.

It is interesting that in some of the Restorationists' writings, they showed that the U.S. courts found that the LDS Church wandered from the teachings of the original church that Joseph Smith, Jr. founded. Consequently,, the RLDS Church was awarded the properties in Kirtland, Ohio and was named by the Courts to be, indeed, Joseph Smith's original church.

These Restorationist writers rather give the idea that sometime in the future they will challenge the RLDS church with the same type of court suit to regain control of the Church and its properties which they have contributed to and have worked for for all their lives but have now no say in the direction it is taking.

It will be interesting to watch the outcome.


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