Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints [Strangite]
The followers of James J. Strang have been known as Strangites. James J. Strang claimed to have been ordained under the hands of angels the same hour of Joseph Smith’s death on June 27, 1844 (although 400 miles away). Joseph Smith’s last revelation was a Letter of Appointment written on June 18th, and received by regular course of mail in Burlington, Wisconsin on July 9th, designating James as his successor. James was murdered in 1856, his followers were scattered, and there was no successor. A valid claim to the Melchisedec Priesthood has continued through the true followers of James J. Strang.
It should be noted that the use of the term Strangite has only been used because of its common use. The saints are not Strangites. Throughout the Bible the followers of God have been known as “sons of God,” as “saints,” and other such terms. They were first called Christians in Antioch in derision against them. After the translation of the Book of Mormon, they were called Mormons. We do not object to the use the terms “Mormon” and “Strangite;” but it should be noted that we are “known” as Strangites and not that we are Strangites. We are not “Mormons;” although we believe the Book of Mormon to be another testimony of Jesus Christ. It provides support to the validity of the Bible. We prefer to be known either as Christians or as Latter Day Saints.
The martyrdom of Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844 , caused a division in the church. The name of each church has been identified by the leader of that organization. Shortly after the murder of Joseph Smith, three separate organizations were formed. These were termed the “Rigdonites,” the “Twelvites” (later Brighamites), and the original Strangites. Some of the later organizations was that led by Joseph Smith, III in 1860–known as the Reorganized Church; and the corporate Strangites organized in 1961. Various other organizations were formed in the years following Joseph’s death. None of these were led by one either appointed by Joseph Smith, or ordained according to the law of God. The original church under Joseph Smith and the other three organizations noted above will be discussed. This will be followed by an examination of the organization of the Strangites after the death of James, and the division of the Strangites in 1961. This site is maintained by Elder Samuel E. West who is a member of the original unincorporated church.
The Original Church
What is popularly known as the Mormon Church was originally organized on April 6, 1830, by Joseph Smith; as the Church of Christ . It was later named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The original church was organized as an unincorporated religious society. Many churches of the day organized as a corporation. This is not possible for the Church of Christ. Of course the church exists as a civil organization; but through its direct association with God is also a spiritual entity. The civil aspect of the church has been incorporated to hold property; but, the spiritual church was never incorporated until 1961, under the leadership of Vernon Swift. Incorporating the spiritual church would change the identity of the church into a fictitious function of the United States Government.
The Church of Christ is identified by its organization. Jesus organized the church with a pattern that was to last, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith.” “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists [High Priests]; and some, pastors [Elders] and teachers.” (Eph. 4:11) Take away the head and the body dies. The Church of Christ exists only as long as this organization exists.
Dozens of articles in official church journals have stated the Church of Christ always has a Prophet at its head. The original Church of Christ organized by Joseph Smith was lost at the death of James J. Strang. The highest office remaining in the church was that of third degree Apostle. Revelations and commandments from God was severed.
“Let every one that queries about more Revelations from the Lord, take his bible and see if God ever acknowledge a church to be his, unless there was a prophet in it. This is one of the most important points relative to salvation, for, as it is written, not every one that says Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1, p. 23)
“The Lord is imperative on this subject, and when he says keep my commandments, he means what he says: this may be one reason why we have no account, or record, that the Lord ever acknowledged a church to be his, unless there was a prophet in it. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one church, one gospel, and one way of being baptized for the remission of sins; one promise of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost: one promise of reward for keeping the commandments, and one surety of eternal life by holding out faithful to the end.” (Ibid., 69)
“From this simple answer the conclusion is natural, that God never had a church without a prophet in it; and so it is, as is evident from Ephesians 4:11, 12 verses:–
“ ‘And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the Saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ ” (Times and Season, Vol. 7, p. 297)
Joseph Smith taught that as long as one member of Melchisedec Priesthood remains on the earth that the gate into to the kingdom of heaven is open. The only promise ever made to the Gentile Dispensation in the Fullness of Times was for the Levitical Priesthood. “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 39)
Joseph Smith was ordained a first degree Apostle—Prophet, Lawgiver, Seer, Revelator and Translator. Others were ordained second degree Apostles—Prophets, Counselors, and Seers. Sidney Rigdon was one of these. At the death of a Lawgiver, when another is not appointed by God, the only other officer that can stand at the head of the Church of Christ is a second degree Apostle (Book of the Law, p. 219)—who is also a Prophet; but not a Lawgiver. The Twelve were third degree Apostles; and subject to these higher authorities. These twelve Apostles can act with royal (presiding) authority only under the direction of the Presidency. “The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.” (Doctrine and Covenants, 107:33) Their fundamental mission was not to Zion; but to the nations of the world.
The ordination of Brigham Young made this obvious. “The blessing of Brigham Young was as follows, that he should be strong in body, that he may go forth and gather the Elect preparatory to the great day of the coming of the Lord, and that he might be strong and mighty, declaring the tidings to nations that know not God, that he may add ten talents, that he may come to Zion with many sheaves.” (Kirtland Council Minute Book, p. 72) Note that he was not ordained a Prophet. The blessings and ordinations remain only as long as a person is faithful and obedient.
Sidney Rigdon would have had a just claim to presiding over the Church of Christ had James J. Strang not been ordained as a first degree Apostle and Lawgiver–above him in authority. Brigham Young had absolutely no claim as President of the church; as he was only a third degree Apostle. He was never called and ordained by God as a Prophet.
None of the third degree Apostles, which remained after the death of James, ever attempted to stand at the head of the church. “33 The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.” (Utah D&C 107) After the death of James several attempts were made to have conferences to understand their condition without a Prophet. “We became satisfied, that the Twelve could not lead the Church without a Prophet; and concluded to take care of ourselves & families; and when occasion offered; minister to the necessities of the Saints, according to our abilities, until we have the word of the Lord to guide us on to other duties.” (Record of the Apostles of James 1844 – 1856, pp. 44, 45)
The last Apostle, L. D. Hickey, ordained High Priests with evangelical duties in accordance with the law. With legitimate evangelical offices of the Melchisedec Priesthood remaining among the remnant of the Strangites, the entrance to the kingdom of heaven remained open. Even though most still use the name Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the church cannot be the spiritual Church of Christ. A more proper name would be the Church of the Latter Day Saints (as used in the title page of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants). Those who have remained faithful and obedient remain as members of the Kingdom of God and members of the Church of the Firstborn.
It is my understanding that the Brighamite church elected to change its identity by becoming a corporation. As a church of man, whatever previous claims might have been made, it could no longer be claimed to be the Church of Christ. A group of the Strangites made the same error in 1961. That group, led by Vernon D. Swift, with headquarters in Artesia , New Mexico, gave up their original identity as a church of God and became a church of man; existing and subservient to the laws of man. Their Certificate of Incorporation actually declared that “it has absolutely no connection, ties, agency or affiliation with any other religious society;” including the original church organized by Joseph Smith and continued through James J. Strang.
The first group that was organized after the death of Joseph Smith was led by James J. Strang. This group has often been termed Strangites; although the proper name is the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Joseph Smith had given four revelations from God stating that in the event of his impending death that he would appoint “another” (singular) as his legal successor. At the very hour of his death, some 400 miles away, James claimed to have been ordained under the hands of angels—in accordance with the law of God given through Joseph. “For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.” (Doctrine and Covenants, 43:7) James had to be ordained the same as Joseph to hold the same office as Joseph.
Consider what an unusual claim this was for James to declare, in effect, that Joseph was dead. James could only stand in Joseph’s stead, if Joseph had died. The “Letter of Appointment” from Joseph to James, naming him as Joseph’s legal successor, was written on June 18, mailed in Nauvoo on June 19, received in Burlington, Wisconsin on July 9, 1844 , and remains in Yale University Library. This was the first official news of the death of Joseph in Burlington.
Under command of God, James established Voree (near Burlington) as a stake of Zion. The people were given several direct commandments. They were to gather. They were to have all things in common. They were to build a Tower Of Strength. They were to build a Tabernacle for God. They failed. The gathering of the saints was moved by God to Beaver Island. The people no longer enjoyed the peace they had in Voree. They continued in their failure to live by the laws and commandments of God and James was taken; as Joseph had been before.
This second group of Mormons was organized after the death of Joseph by Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon had been a Vice-President and Counselor to Joseph. His claim to standing at the head of the people would have been legitimate had James not been called of God and ordained to a superior office; as Joseph’s successor.
James J. Strang and his followers extensively labored with Rigdon; encouraging him to take his place in the original church organization that was continued through James. He refused. At a conference on October 19, 1846, James received a revelation in which God declared, “Therefore he shall not stand in his presidency for I do take his office from him and give it unto one who will serve me.” George J. Adams was called in his place.
On August 15, 1844 , Brigham Young, President of the Twelve, announced, “Let no man presume for a moment that his [Joseph’s] place will be filled by another.” He announced that the Twelve would “Preside over all the affairs of the church in all the world.” (Times and Seasons, Vol. 5, p. 618) Thus they were called “the Twelveites.” The law of God provides that the Twelve had no jurisdiction in Zion. Their mission was to the nations of the world.
James labored with Brigham Young and those Apostles who followed him for over a year. Finally, on January 13, 1846 , he wrote to the Twelve, ““I therefore solemnly admonish and direct you to cease all your usurpations in the Church: to cease to exercise any of the authorities and powers of the first Presidency of the Church, and to go out and preach the gospel to the nations of the earth that have not received it. And I direct and require that you first report yourselves to the Presidency of the Church, at the Stake of Voree and there make satisfaction, for the wrongs you have done as it is said, or in the alternate to answer to charges to be preferred against you, and receive the directions for your further guidance; And give you until the first day of April next to appear there.”
Brigham Young refused and was tried by a proper tribunal of the High Council on April 7, 1846. Charges included “Conspiracy to overthrow the order of the Church, “Usurpation,” “Tyrannous Administration,” “Teaching False Doctrine,” and “Blasphemy;” with accompanying accusations.
“It is adjudged that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Willard Richards and George A. Smith, be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints: their Priesthood taken away; and they delivered over to the buffetings of Satan in the flesh.” (Chronicles of Voree, pp. 75, 76)
At a conference called by Brigham and held on Dec. 24, 1847, it was acknowledge that the Brighamite church was in an “unorganized state;” and that “they had to select a First Presidency.” This they accomplished through a vote of the people. “It was moved and seconded that Brigham Young should be our First President. It was carried unanimously.” From this time they became known as the Brighamites.
“4 But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him; for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead. 5 And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments; 6 And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. 7 For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 43)
Brigham Young was neither appointed by Joseph Smith, nor ever ordained to the office of Apostle and Prophet. He even admitted on several occasions that he was not a Prophet. “I do not profess to be a Prophet. I never called myself so; but I actually believe I am, because people are all the time telling me I am.” (Journal of Discourses, 5:177)
The proof that Brigham was not a Prophet is also evidenced in his teachings. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) The Bible teaches that God never changes, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:6) Joseph taught in Part One of the 1835 Edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Lectures 3 to 5, that God is without change “But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long suffering.” (Lecture 3:21 )
Brigham introduced a new doctrine on the existence and character of God. He taught that God was once a man, progressed to His current level of deity, and that man can do the same. He even taught that Adam was God. Since his new doctrine was opposed to the teachings of Joseph, he simply removed Part One from his Doctrine and Covenants.
“…you believe Adam was made of the dust of this earth. This I do not believe.” (Ibid., 2:6)
“Brother Pratt… could not believe that Adam was our God or the Father of Jesus Christ. President Young said that He was that he came from another world & made this brought Eve with him.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Sept. 17, 1854)
“…so we had a grandfather or we would have had no father, and our grandfather had a father and grandfather and great-great-great- grandfather so far back there is no beginning – They always existed on some world – and when this world was made – our God who is Adam came and commenced the peopling of it – Though he is God and had lived and died and had been resurrected on some other planet – and obtained his exaltation and begat the Spirits of children enough to people this world.” (The Teachings of President Brigham Young, Vol. 3, 1852 – 1854, Comp. and Ed. by Fred D. Collier, Collier’s Publishing Co., October 1987, p. 369)
On Jan. 10, 1886 , Apostle Lorenzo Snow stated, “As man now is, God once was.” (Journal of Discourses, 26:368)
The Ohio Union identified these three original groups of Mormons: Camp of Israel—Twelvites–Rigdonites and Voree Mormons.–We stated yesterday that the emigrating Mormons had assumed the cognomen of the “Camp of Israel”, which we are informed includes the awful corrupt “Twelve,” the “Danites”, the “Destroying Angels,” and most of the “bogus makers,” “Thieves,” “assassins,” “police,” and “vulgar herd,” of that strange people. From the best information we can obtain, and we have taken some pains, they are as corrupt a set of “land pirates” as ever disgraced the earth; though they are much to be pitied on account of the suffering women and children, who are emigrating with them. The poverty and actual suffering of these poor creatures are enough to sicken the heart of all feeling persons, while it should satisfy all who have comfortable raiment, and a sufficiency of food, with their condition in life, and learn them “to be therewith content.” The people of Illinois have determined that all the Mormons, of every clique shall leave the State. There are now three principal cliques of Mormons – 1st. The “Twelveites,” who are moving off somewhere to the west, with the most corrupt, abandoned, licentious, low and groveling portion of the church, now called the “Camp of Israel.” 2d. The “Rigdonites” who are locating their “ Zion ” near , Pennsylvania . They include in their number, it is said, many excellent men and estimable citizens, who left the Twelveites in consequence of their “spiritual wife doctrine” and other abominations. 3rd. The “Voree Mormons” who acknowledge James J. Strang, Esq., as their prophet.–This portion of the church is evidently the most orderly and law-abiding, and includes most of the talent and virtue of that people. They are rapidly increasing in numbers, and most of the churches out of Nauvoo have declared for “Strang and Voree;” and “ Voree , Wisconsin ”, is to be the “great gathering place” of the sincere and virtuous portion of the “Latter Day Saints.”
The Reorganized Church
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was begun in Beloit , Wisconsin, by two apostate Strangites in 1852. It was not until 1860 that Joseph Smith III, the son of Joseph Smith the Prophet, accepted leadership of this group.
In a tract called The Prophetic Office, written by Edward T. Couch in September, 1908, he wrote the following concerning this group: “We will first take up the claims of the present head of the Reorganized Church. He was about twelve years old when his father, the great Prophet was killed. He did not, nor any one in his behalf, make any claim to be his father’s successor for several years after this sad event. About the year 1856 to 186o, Jason W. Briggs and Zenos H. Gurley came to Joseph and wanted him to take up the claim to be his father’s successor in the prophetic office. The following is his reply as given by himself: ‘Will I ever have anything to do with Mormonism? If so, how and what will it be?’ These words are quoted from ‘Life of Joseph the Prophet,’ page 757, a book that is printed and sold by the Reorganized Church, and of course they are willing to take evidence on the question before us from their own publications.
“Again we are told in this book, on page 760, ‘In the fall of the year 1856 three events occurred that had much to do with my course religiously, and aided me to decide the question, what part of my father’s work, if any, was I to take?’
“Once more Joseph tells us, ‘I believed that He who enabled my father to decide… could enable me, if He would, to decide whether I should, or should not, have anything to do with Mormonism; and if so, what?’–Page 762.
“From time to time the conversation with Mr. Briggs and Mr. Gurley went on, and the present Joseph again tells us on page 768, ‘I did not then know whether I should ever be called to take any part in that work, (his father’s gospel work,) but that if I were, I was ready, and that it would have to be made clear to me, as well as to others what that work was.’
“This makes four testimonies quoted from ‘Life of Joseph the Prophet,’ in which the present Joseph up to this time, made no claim to be his father’s successor. From the fact that Joseph was at this time about 26 years old, ‘and did not know then that he ever would have anything to do with Mormonism,’ it shows conclusively that he was neither appointed, nor ordained by his father.
“We will now call your attention to what the President of the Reorganized Church said of his father about twenty-three years after this. It is this: ‘He [his father] could not ordain and induct a successor while himself lived.’–Young Joseph’s letter to J. B. Price, in the Saints Advocate of Sep., 1883, vol. 6. Joseph was right in this; his father could not ordain and induct a successor while he lived, or there would be two heads to the church at the same time. This makes the fifth statement in which he disowns any ordination by his father to the prophetic office.
“Now let us see what Elder Whitehead of the Reorganized Church has told us. He said, ‘he saw Newell K. Whitney, Hiram Smith, and Joseph Smith anoint and ordain Young Joseph a prophet, seer and revelator in 1844, in a room over Joseph’s store in Nauvoo.”–Saints Herald, June 27, 1885 , page 413. This statement is also in the Josephite tract, No. 17, called ‘The Successor,’ page 9. This tract was circulated about fifteen years ago. It is also put on record in ‘True Succession In Church Presidency,’ by Elder Heman C. Smith, page 47. It is very easy to see that this Whitehead testimony says, Joseph Smith, his brother Hiram, and Newell K. Whitney anointed and ordained Young Joseph a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. It is also very easy to see that this one statement contradicts the five made by his own Prophet and President, as already shown; so this makes five contradictions.
“We will now see what God has spoken by the great modern Prophet: ‘But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift, [the prophetic office] except it be through him, for if it be taken from him he shall not have power, except to appoint another in his stead.’–Utah Doctrine and Covenants 43:2. This revelation says Joseph the Prophet shall not have power, except to appoint his successor, while Elder Whitehead says he ordained him. This is the sixth contradiction this Whitehead testimony is the cause of.”
In 1985, the Reorganized Church changed their organization and name, became ecumenical, and affiliated itself with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). Their new name is the Community of Christ. Richard Price continued to maintain a group with the same name, identity, and doctrines of the original church.
Strangite Organization after James’ Martyrdom
James J. Strang was shot at Beaver Island on June 16, 1856 , by two apostate Strangites; under the protection of the U. S. Steamer Michigan. The captain refused to allow the sheriff to take Wentworth and Bedford into custody. He took the assassins to the enemies of the saints in Mackinac; where they were given a mock trial, and set free. See the page “Strang, Prophet Like Unto Moses,” “Strang, The Martyr.” He was returned to Burlington, where he died on July 9, 1856. His followers were driven from the Island; and their property stolen. James’ final instruction to the Apostles before his death was: “for every man to take care of his family and do the best he could till he found out what to do.” (Record of the Apostles of James 1844-1856, p. 31)
Some of the Apostles made an attempt to organize the church. Their conclusion was that as third degree Apostles none was authorized by God to stand at the head of the church. Apostle Post wrote, “There were five of the Apostles, that met together (viz) L. D. Hickey, L. D. Tubbs, J Pearce, J. Hutchins, & W. Post on the 10th of Feb. 1857, in the wilderness 6 miles from Racine, and there prayed and communed with each other all night. We became satisfied, that the Twelve could not lead the Church without a Prophet; and concluded to take care of ourselves & families; and when occasion offered; minister to the necessities of the Saints, according to our abilities, until we have the word of the Lord to guide us on to other duties. This is truly a time of mourning, & fasting; for God has chastened us sorely for our sins, & we know not the extent of our sins, for God has not shown them unto us.
“The faithful among us are determined to wait upon the Lord, and trust in his Mercies: for his mercy endureth forever.” (Ibid., 44-46)
- D. Hickey was the last of the Twelve; and had been at the 1857 meeting of the Apostles. He died onApril 25, 1897. All of the Apostles understood that the church was not organized without a Prophet; and that none could stand at the head. It is contrary to the laws of God for any person—other than members of the Presidency—to attempt to govern and regulate the church independently without the supervision of the Presidency. The Twelve under Joseph were rebuked for making such an attempt.
James taught, “I am aware also that the Twelve claim in their first Apostolic letter after the death of Joseph to preside over and dictate all the affairs of the Church in all the world.
“This claim is not only utterly unsupported by any one testimony but is in many points directly contrary to the word of God. The Twelve are a traveling and not a local or general High Council and though they are required to build up the Church and regulate the affairs thereof in all nations they are to do so expressly under the direction of the Presidency of the Church agreeable to the institution of heaven.” (Voree Herald, No. 1)
Wingfield Watson lived on Beaver Island at the time the saints were driven from the Island. He was ordained a High Priest by L. D. Hickey on April 18, 1897 —about a week before Hickey’s death. L. D. Hickey was authorized to ordain evangelical High Priests, or High Priests with evangelical duties, in large branches of the church according to revelation. “It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers [High Priests], as they shall be designated unto them by revelation.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 107:39)
Some time around 1910, Watson wrote two licenses in which he identified himself as being ordained a Presiding High Priest by L. D. Hickey. One was dated in Coldwater, Michigan, on May 21, 1901, signed L. D. Hickey and John Wake (the book in which it was written was published in 1908). The second certificate was dated Feb. 1, 1910, signed L. D. Hickey and Warren Post. Both certificates are in Wingfield Watson’s own handwriting.
On April 14, 1919, Watson wrote Milo M. Quaife, who was compiling a history of the Strangites, of the sad condition of the people in his day. “To be short, we have been through fire and through water through reproach and persecution, through the spoiling of our goods, and poverty, and exile and in peril amongst false brethren and apostates; and because of these things we have been compelled to search, and investigate as we never had done before, and have been well rewarded… But as you inquire how the organization under Mr. Strang has been kept up since his death, I can only say that this organization has not been well kept up, from the circumstances in which we were placed; for when Mr. Strang was taken from us, most of us were as little children suddenly left without father or mother… Where there was an Elder who remained faithful, he taught his children and grand children, and baptized them into the faith, and preached the gospel to his neighbors also and baptized any who were willing to receive the gospel. Besides the office of apostle there is also the office of High Priest and Elder, who holds the right to preach the gospel and administer its ordinances. It was not in the nature of things, to be expected that we could do a great work, for nearly all the men had families dependant upon them for support, and Mr. Strang’s last advice and counsel to us, was to let every man take care of himself and his family, and do the best he can until he is informed further what he shall do.”
As L. D. Hickey held no authority above that of third degree Apostle, he could not ordain Watson a Presiding High Priest. He could only ordain him a High Priest with evangelical duties. The difference is that an evangelical High Priest only holds authority, as explained by Watson, to preach the gospel and administer its ordinances. “Besides the office of apostle there is also the office of High Priest and Elder, who holds the right to preach the gospel and administer its ordinances.” They hold no royal or presiding authority.
Watson ordained Samuel Martin a High Priest in 1922. Samuel Martin ordained Moroni (Max) Flanders and Lloyd Flanders High Priests in 1926. Lloyd Flanders, wrote, “The fact is that L. D. Hickey, as an Apostle under James J. Strang, and the last of the Apostles had no power to ordain anything but an evangelical high priest—he had earlier ordained J. O. McNutt of the Hixton Manchester Branch of the Church an Evangelical High Priest as early as 1884; but J. O. McNutt had no faith in L. D. Hickey because Hickey was ‘belly deep’ in ‘Young Josephism’ and never acted in the office. Samuel H. Martin was also ordained an Evangelical H. P. in the San Louis Valley by L. D. Hickey.”
Stanley Johnston wrote, “A letter giving Mrs. Whites [daughter of Wingfield Watson] version, tells the same. I will quote a few lines: ‘L. D. Hickey wrote to W. Watson and asked him to go to Coldwater to be ordained a High Priest by him, so he went. Mr. Hickey wrote in his letter ‘you are the man.’ W. Watson was not ordained a presiding High Priest but only took charge of the Church because he held the highest office in the Church.” Mr. [Joseph] Hickey says his father ordained Watson a high priest but not a presiding high priest, and asserts there is a great difference between a presiding high priest and a high priest presiding.’ My understanding is that S. H. Martin & Max [Moroni Flanders] were ‘High Priests presiding.’ ”
Watson could not be ordained a Presiding High Priest under the law of God. L. D. Hickey held no authority to ordain Watson anything other than an evangelical High Priest; and bless him with divine guidance to look after the remnant of the Strangites. Whatever, Watson was never sustained by a conference as a Presiding High Priest; as required by the law of God. Under James, Presiding High Priests were always called at a general conference and sustained in their office by the conference. A conference in 1919, rather than recognizing Watson as a Presiding High Priest over the church, resolved that Watson, Ketchum, and Flanders be recognized as a quorum of the Presidency, “be it resolved that we, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the general conference assembled, do sustain this quorum as it is presently constituted, namely: Wingfield Watson, Albert Ketchum and John Flanders, by our faith, confidence, and our prayers. The resolution was unanimously adopted by vote.”
This resolution was contrary to the law of God and the proper organization of the priesthood. It was soon discarded. The people still sought to put a head on the church. In 1925, a conference made such a resolution. “Resolved that we sustain and uphold Elder S. H. Martin as Presiding High Priest over the church and conference by our faith, confidence and prayers.” For sixty-nine years after the death of James, the church had no head; and could not have a head without one being appointed by direct revelation. A Presiding High Priest over the church would be the President of the church.
At a High Council meeting on January 15, 1836 , “Don Carlos Smith was nominated to the president of the High Priesthood in Kirtland.” He was called by the High Council; and ordained by those standing above him in royal authority: President Joseph Smith, Sr. and Sidney Rigdon. He was properly called and ordained according to the law of God. The presumed ordination of Samuel Martin, an evangelical High Priest, as President (Presiding High Priest) over the church began a new tradition.
Samuel Martin ordained Moroni Flanders and Lloyd Flanders evangelical High Priests on Feb. 26, 1926 . A conference in 1928, noted that “Max ( Moroni ) Flanders was set apart by ordination as an assistant presiding High Priest to assist Presiding High Priest S. H. Martin in the work of the church and to take charge of the work at his decease.” This is only compounding the problem. There is no office of Assistant Presiding High Priest in the order of the house of God. At best, this could only be a blessing to help Max Flanders in his spiritual work after the death of Martin. It could not bestow upon him any ruling power over the church.
At the death of Max Flanders there were none who claimed to hold the office of Presiding High Priest. At a conference in 1947, “Bro. Mead made motion that Bro. Lloyd Flanders be placed in the position formerly occupies by Bro. Max Flanders as Presiding High Priest of the Church. Seconded and approved. Discussion followed as to ordaining a High Priest to preside over the Church, or just setting up a precedent of choosing or voting them into that position… Bro. West made a motion that we do not ordain Bro. Flanders because we have already appointed and voted him into this position.”
Whatever chain of authority might have been claimed from 1926 to 1947, was severed by the lack of one holding proper authority to ordain Lloyd Flanders; and the precedent that the voice of the people cannot take the place of being “called of God, as was Aaron.” At a conference in 1955, a teacher “nominated Bro. Vernon Swift as the Presiding High Priest… Bro. Vernon Swift was appointed the Presiding High Priest by a vote of 17 to 16.” The law of God on calling and ordination to the priesthood has always been, “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Heb. 5:4) Aaron was called by prophecy through Moses, who held the authority to ordain him.
James explained that “called of God, as was Aaron” means that a person must be called by the mouth of one holding that priesthood; and ordained by one holding at least that high an office. “In order to being called of God as was Aaron, it is not necessary to be called by the mouth of a prophet, but by the mouth of any one who has the authority to ordain.” (Zion’s Reveille, Vol. 2, No. 12, p. 50/102) No person can legally call another to an office higher in the priesthood than that which he holds. James taught the vote of the people is not the voice of God. The act was null and void not only due to the manner in which it was administered; it was also null and void because Wingfield Watson could not be ordained a Presiding High Priest. Since L. D. Hickey could not stand at the head, he could not appoint another to such an office. The stream cannot rise higher than its fountain.
The law of God declares, “Thou shalt not take upon thyself the honour of the Priesthood; neither shalt thou confer this honour on any but him whom the Lord thy God shall call. For no man shall administer in the name of God, but he that is called by the revelation of God’s will [through one holding that office], and set apart by the hands of those upon whom the authority of his name is sealed [one holding at least the office Presiding High Priest.” (Book of the Law, p. 163) “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain… whosever is not chosen of him, the same is a usurper, and unholy: the Lord will not hold him guiltless, for he taketh his name in vain.” (Book of the Law, p. 20)
James J. Strang taught that whatever act or ordinance is required to place any person in a particular office of the priesthood is required of all. High Priests during the administration of James were required to attend a general conference of the church to receive their various appointments and jurisdiction as Presiding High Priests. Don Carlos Smith was called by the High Council and ordained by President Joseph Smith, Senior, and Sidney Rigdon, Counselor. He had to be ordained to ruling authority through those that stood above him in royal (presiding) priesthood.
James J. Strang in his address to the conference of April, 1847, noted, “I could not excuse myself if I failed on this occasion to caution you all in the most explicit manner of the dangers that we bring upon ourselves whenever we step aside from our proper sphere of action in the church, and undertake to regulate the action of some other office or quorum over which we have no jurisdiction, and in the action of which we have no part. Those who stretched forth their hands to steady the ark when it seemed likely to fall were smitten of God, and punished in his wrath. As it is necessary that all the members be fitly jointed together into a perfect and entire body; so it is necessary that the eyes do the seeing, the ears the hearing, and every one exercise its appropriate functions. And thou the eyes may not always see clearly the ears can assist only by hearing and can not assist the seeing.” (Zion’s Reveille, Vol. 2, No. 13, p. 54/106)
High priests in the church after Max Flanders declared on numerous occasions that the provision of Doctrine and Covenants, Section 20:67, had to be obeyed. “Every president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder), bishop, high councilor, and high priest, is to be ordained by the direction of a high council or general conference.”
Bruce Flanders had been ordained by Joseph Mead to the office of High Priest a week before the 1955 General Conference. His ordination was ruled invalid and he was re-ordained. At the 1965 High Priest Conference, the ordination of Jared Flanders to the office of high priest was ruled null and void; because he had not been called to that office by a general conference. A major problem arises by declaring this verse to be in force. If it was in force in 1955, it was in force from the time the law was first established. This ruling, if true, declares the ordinations of Samuel Martin and Lloyd Flanders to be invalid. Section 20, verses 65, 66, and 67 were not part of the revelation given to Joseph Smith in April, 1830.
A general conference of the church can only be called by one having authority and jurisdiction over the church—a member of the Presidency. There is no record of a general conference of the church being called by any person outside the Presidency. “If William Smith and Chilion Daniels are Presidents of the Church, the call of a Conference by them is valid.”
“As for agreeing upon the word of God, if any number should agree that any particular word was the word of God, their argument would not make it so; and if they should fail to agree upon that which is really his word, their disagreement would not diminish its authority.—Agree upon the word of God!—What nonsense. The celebrated John Wesley was once in a sharp discussion with his sister, on some question about the authority of human institutions for church government. Forgetting argument he asserted dogmatically, ‘I tell you, sister, the voice of the people is THE VOICE OF GOD.’ How truly did she reply, ‘Yes, THEY CRIED CRUCIFY HIM, CRUCIFY HIM!’ It is no wonder that men as lost as these callers of this Conference should talk of agreeing upon the word of God.” (Northern Islander, Thursday, Nov. 1, 1855)
It must be remembered that these men were trying to do their best, according to their understanding. Wingfield Watson, Samuel Martin, Moroni Flanders, and Lloyd Flanders did a great deal of ministerial work; and should be honored for their work. Even though they may have erred in their understanding of the order of the priesthood, they must be honored for their good work in the gospel. It has been noted that they were High Priests with evangelical duties; and were only blessed to help guide the people in their spiritual affairs. Their priesthood as High Priests was valid; and the ordinances they performed were legitimate. Those whom they ordained according to the law of God had a legitimate call to the priesthood. All priesthood is valid until regularly taken away. King David had committed murder in the death of Uriah. He repented in tears; and David was still recognized as a High Priest and King. He could not receive forgiveness in life for such a grievous sin; but, his priesthood was still valid.
There seems to be only three cases where men have attempted to actually stand as a ruler over the church. First, Wingfield Watson, Albert Ketchum, and John Flanders made such an attempt in 1919. It was soon recognized as an error and abandoned. Samuel Martin, Moroni Flanders, and Lloyd Flanders understood they were High Priests with evangelical responsibilities; and had no ruling authority over the church. The second was under Vernon D. Swift who was barely voted into that office by the calling of a teacher and a vote of the people in 1955; and was not presumably ordained until over three years later. Swift appears to have been the only one that considered himself as a ruler of the people. The third is addressed below.
The 1961 Strangite Split
The main stream members of the Strangite church elected to organize themselves as a corporation. At the 1961 General Conference they accepted the Certificate of Incorporation and the Constitution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) [Inc.]. When a group organizes themselves as a corporation, they lose their former identity. The church had two identities: one civil and one spiritual.
Had the church incorporated only the civil (e.g. properties) part of the church as a corporation, they could have retained their original spiritual identity. Instead, they incorporated the spiritual identity of the church as a corporation; and thereby lost that spiritual identity. They simply became a part of the US Government; as stated on the Certification of Incorporation.
In 1961, under the leadership of Vernon Swift, many of the members organized the spiritual identity of the church as a corporation. The Certificate of Incorporation made it clear this new church, “has absolutely no connection, ties, agency or affiliation with any other religious society;” including the original unincorporated church founded by Joseph Smith and continued through James J. Strang. The name of the corporation is THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER SAINTS (STRANGITE). As a church of man it now had no association with the church organized by Joseph Smith and continued through James J. Strang; including no authority to preach or administer the saving ordinances of the gospel. It is simply an appendage to the US Government. A provision in the New Mexico Statutes allows them to use the name without appending the “Inc.” This does not change their actual identity. They are a church of man and have no claim to divine authority. Their acts are simply those of the US Government. They are now only acts of man. Their ordinances are not recorded in heaven.
New Mexico Statute 53-8-23 requires that Vernon D. Swift (know deceased) be recognized by members of the corporation as the President of the said church. He has been identified by the state as the President of that church since its incorporation. The corporation organized a new order of the priesthood to stand at the head of the church; and represent the governing authority of that church. “In the interim between the meetings of the General Conferences, the Council of High Priests shall constitute the Government of the Church.” This new order of the priesthood is also given total ruling power over the church, “The Council of High Priests has the power of veto over any action of a General Conference.”
Vernon D. Swift was stripped of any ruling power by the adoption of the corporate bylaws, “THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS (Strangite).” The church organized by Joseph Smith under the law of God never recognized any group of High Priests to stand at the head of the church. Even the quorum of three Presiding High Priests that constituted a quorum of the Presidency had no ruling power over the church.
“This puts the whole matter beyond successful controversy to the contrary, that the three high priests referred to are not and cannot be the First Presidency of the church, because the priesthood, blessings and oracles of God comes not through those three high priests nor the twelve apostles, nor yet the seventies of the church, but from the First President of the church, called an set apart of God by direct revelation, and not by the elective franchise of the body or church.” (Gospel Herald, Vol. 3, no. 69, p. 17/329)
This Council of High Priests, according to the corporate constitution, “shall consist of the High priests who are in good standing. A QUORUM of this council shall be a MAJORITY of the High Priests.” This government of the church was empowered ONLY in a meeting of the majority of high priests who were in good standing. From the 1961 General Conference to the 1993 High Priests Conference, Vernon was unable to assemble a majority of the high priests. At the 1963 High Priests Conference, “The conclusion was that THIS IS THE RULING COUNCIL of the church and the authority to govern rests in this body OR THERE IS NO CHURCH.”
Let them be ruled by their own words. There conferences and actions have utilized the corporate Constitution. At the 1968 General Conference, “Bro. Vernon opened the Conference by calling attention to the Constitution of the [corporation] church, especially pointing out Article III, Section 1, Paragraph G., stating that the High Priests who met prior to the Conference to act as the resolutions committee must be considered by the Church as a Council of High Priests.” Wrong! Their constitution requires a “majority” to act as the Council of High Priests. In 1965, they noted, “Due to the LACK OF A QUORUM… The high priests could not agree on their authority.” In 1967, they noted, “we must have eight to have a majority… We had six.” In 1969, they never recognized themselves as a majority of the Council of High Priests. In 1975, “The HIGH PRIESTS now taking part in Church matters ARE ACTING AS AN ADVISORY GROUP… WE DO NOT CONSIDER THE HIGH PRIESTS in the Church, at this time, TO BE A HIGH COUNCIL.” In 1985, they did not sustain themselves as a majority of the Council of High Priests. In 1993, they did not sustain themselves as a majority of the Council of High Priests. Vernon D. Swift noted, “we did not agree on the things discussed.” From the 1961 General Conference that organized the corporation church to the 1993 High Priest Conference, the church was without governing authority.
I have a letter in my files from Lloyd Flanders to Vernon Swift on February 12, 1967 , “…for as noted in my letter to you before: if we make the Ruling Council anything else but a Temporary High Council: we have set a man-made head on the Church: and are no better than other L.D.S. Bodies.”
Another to Vernon D. Swift on November 25, 1969 , notes, “I regret ever having had the slightest thing to do with the charter for the Church: I regard it is a serious mistake ON MY PART: and I have repented of it and asked God’s forgiveness.”
In another to Cynthia Trimble, of Artesia, he wrote, “As a simple matter of fact– if they have any AUTHORITY OUTSIDE THE Voree Branch– it comes from the Man-made Charter and Constitution of the Church– which I have bitterly repented ever having anything to do with because it is and was in many points contrary to God’s Laws– and unholy! And I refuse to recognize this– as I do Satan’s other works!”
This new corporation church was to be governed by a new man-made order of the priesthood; established to “constitute the government of the church.” Vernon was never able to get a quorum to act as this Council of High Priests until sometime after 1993. No quorum of High Priests was ever recognized by the law of God; as having ruling authority over the church. Ruling authority over the church was limited to the Presidency and to Presiding High Priests ordained by the Presidency.
Members of the corporation church do not want to think of themselves as being members of a new man-made church; and of giving up their former identity with the original church. Sadly, the facts of the matter prove the opposite. The corporation was organized as “THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS (Strangite).”
The corporate by-laws of this corporation “shall govern the administration and regulation of the affairs of the corporation [church].” In fact, this Constitution was used to govern the corporation church; as early as 1963. It was used in every conference; and in every church action. The only reasonable conclusion is that this church exists only as a part of the United States Government.
Finally, the only membership record retained by this corporate church is the record of the corporation. Members who had previously been listed as part of the original church organized by Joseph Smith are now listed ONLY as members of the corporation church. On March 27, 2000 , in accordance with New Mexico Statute, I requested a list of corporate church membership. Vernon refused. I enlisted an investigation firm in Artesia to make the appropriate request in accordance with New Mexico law. My request was explicitly for corporation records, “the records of the names and addresses of all members of the corporation.” The list of corporation members which Vernon D. Swift provided actually included the names of every person who Vernon considered legitimate followers of James J. Strang. The only list of members that Vernon possessed was a list of members of the corporation. The corporation never used an appropriate method for either advising these members of the change in their identity, or for determining which members were actually members of the corporation. At the 2000 General Conference, Vernon D. Swift declared, “this corporation—this church… I said Church, too, and this IS the church.”
The spiritual church under Joseph Smith and James J. Strang was never incorporated. There is nothing in the law of God that requires a person to join a civil corporation. We have been instructed not to join other churches and not to organize any new churches. The gospel of Christ is as unchangeable as all spiritual truth. Allegiance should be pledged only to God and not to man.
The original church organized by Joseph Smith was the Church of Christ. Its name has been changed several times; but, until the death of James J. Strang its organization remained the same. Although the church today would most appropriately be called the Church of the Latter Day Saints, regardless what name is used, they represent the remnant of the original church. The corporation church split from the original church; and exists only as a fictitious entity–part of the United States Government.
A remnant of the original church, organized by Joseph Smith, remains today. They do not accept membership in the corporation. The problem with having their names removed from the corporation membership list rests with Vernon D. Swift combining all followers of James J. Strang, who he considered acceptable, into one list. There are far more members and officers in the original unincorporated church today than exist in the corporate church. The corporate church is slowly dissolving into the world.
There are many Elders across Zion and in various countries who remain true to the original church organization, the order of the house of God, and the laws governing the priesthood. They have divine authority through an unbroken chain to James J. Strang. They preach the gospel, administer its ordinances, and adhere to the laws of God to the best of their ability. The gate into the kingdom of heaven is open through the administration of these Elders. Although many errors have occurred during the time since the death of President Strang, the authority of those who remained true to the original church remains valid. James J. Strang wrote, “authority is good till regularly taken away.” (The Diamond, p. 15)
As long as one person is left holding a valid claim to the Melchisedec Priesthood, there is divine authority on the earth to preach and administer the saving ordinances of the gospel. The greatest opportunity ever given to man remains available—the approbation of eternal life. Man must always decide whether he prefers the will of God, His law, and the testimony of His holy prophets or the teachings and traditions of man and the pleasures of the world.
When man strays from the will of God, he often follows the common sentiment of the day. Even the most gross errors, within a few generations, become accepted tradition. Opinions then guide those who trust in the arm of flesh. “Opinions, where we have the word of the Lord, are worth nothing. Since the days of the Savior, they have strangely divided men into almost as many sects, as the number of the name of the beast that John saw. All men have a right to their opinions, but to adopt them for rules of worship, is wrong, and may finally leave the souls of them that receive them for spiritual guides, in the Telestial kingdom.” (Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1, p. 69)
- J. Squires was ordained an Elder in the Church.On November 22, 1835, “he came forward before the Church and confessed that he had been in temptation and fallen into error, so much so as to go and join the Methodists… President Smith arose & spoke at considerable length on the impropriety of turning away from the truth and going after a people so destitute of the spirit of righteousness as the Methodists… President Rigdon then called for a vote of the Church & received it in favor of restoring him to fellowship and the office of Elder also, and the clerk give him a license.” (Kirtland Council Minute Book, p. 150)
“How are the sins of the saints forgiven? By confession. ‘If we CONFESS our sins, he is fruitful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.’ To whom are sins to be confessed? ‘Confess your FAULTS ONE to ANOTHER, and PRAY one for another, that ye may be healed.’” (Zion’s Reveille, Vol. 2, No. 8, p. 30/82) Forgiveness is the result of confession, repentance, and recompense.
Our late Bro. Lloyd Flanders led the way, on November 25, 1969 , he wrote Vernon, “I regret ever having had the slightest thing to do with the charter for the Church: I regard it is a serious mistake ON MY PART: and I have repented of it and asked God’s forgiveness.”
The members of the corporate church could follow his lead, dissolve the corporation, confess of their error, repent of their sin, and the Lord is merciful in His forgiveness. I pray for them; but, I fear they will be counted among the five foolish virgins (Matt. 25); and will be left behind when the trump is sounded.
Hope in eternity is dependent on faith and obedience in mortality. We have been instructed to study; and to prove all things according to the law of God and the testimony of His holy prophets. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15) “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21) “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa. 8:20)
Our hearts and minds must be as a little child—open and desiring to learn. Our faith must be as firm as the hardest rock; and built upon the rock of revelation. Our hearts must always be towards our God and our Savior; and seeking to do their will. “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36)
We are commanded to, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 ); “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21); and “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).
The choice to follow the will of God or the will of man has been offered to the people of God throughout many generations. “1 And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: 2 And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God… 15 But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.” (Deut. 28) “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
Samuel E. West
Elder in the original church of latter day saints