After the Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in Carthage Jail, the members back in Nauvoo didn’t really know what to do. Who was going to lead them now that Joseph was gone? What was going to happen to the Church?
This problem was exacerbated by the fact that before Joseph died, he made as many as 8 different references to who should succeed him. In this episode, we’re going to specifically look at the claims of his son, Joseph Smith III, and the break-off sect known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ, later renamed the Community of Christ.
In the very first Faith and Beliefs episode we did, I made it clear that my purpose wasn’t to bash on other faiths, but rather to explain why we believe the things we believe. So I don’t want to come across as harsh towards our friends at the Community of Christ. But it is important to explain why we did not take the same route they did after Joseph Smith’s death. You’re free and encouraged to come to your own conclusions. Let’s do this.
There are some claims that Joseph Smith privately or publicly indicated that his son should be his successor and lead the Church after Joseph’s death. But, when Joseph Smith was killed, his son was only 11 years old. So when the topic of who should lead the Church came up, it was mainly a decision between The Quorum of the 12 led by Brigham Young, or the last surviving member of the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon.
One Latter-day Saint, John H. Carter, claimed Joseph had said his son would succeed him, and said in the late 1800s, “I believe it today just as strongly as I ever did, and it was under that belief that I followed President Young west.”
So some people believed that Sidney or the 12 would take control of the Church, and when Joseph III was old enough, he would take the reins. The Church sided with the 12. Sidney started his own break-off sect which quickly crumbled into nothingness. Meanwhile, the Church moved west to Utah. But Emma Smith and her children, including Joseph III, stayed behind in Nauvoo, Illinois, and soon disassociated themselves with the Church.
Now we need to talk about a man named Jason Briggs. Briggs originally followed Brigham Young’s leadership but felt the church had fallen into apostasy by 1846, probably due to plural marriage. He left and affiliated with the break-off sect of a man named James Strang who we’ll talk about in another episode. But then Strang started practicing plural marriage, so Briggs left that sect and joined up with William Smith’s sect until they started practicing plural marriage as well.
It was at that point that he claimed to have received a revelation to establish the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ, which he officially did in 1852. And, you guessed it, no plural marriage. That said, he and other leaders of his organization were of the opinion that their leader needed to be someone of Joseph Smith’s lineage. In 1860, Joseph Smith III (now aged 27) agreed to be that leader. Eventually, disagreements arose between Briggs and Smith, and Briggs ironically ended up leaving the very church he created.
So, did Joseph Smith actually name his son as his successor? I don’t know. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. The question I have isn’t so much about whether or not Joseph III should have been leading the Church, but rather which church did Joseph III end up leading?
Joseph Smith received Doctrine and Covenants 43 in 1831 after Oliver Cowdery claimed to be receiving revelation for the Church. The revelation in D&C to the elders of the Church reads:
“And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until [Joseph] be taken, if he abide in me. 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.
“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; And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me.”
Jason Briggs claimed to receive a revelation for the whole church. According to the revelation given to Joseph Smith, this could not have been possible, unless Briggs was appointed by Joseph himself to do so, which was not the case. So even if Joseph planned on his son succeeding him, the church Joseph III ended up presiding over was founded upon an unauthorized revelation received by Jason Briggs.
Nonetheless, the Community of Christ teaches that they are the true continuation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Over time HUGE key doctrines that Joseph taught were abandoned, such as eternal marriage, temple ordinances, and the nature of the Godhead. As of 2014, they had about 200,000 members worldwide.
But of course this is all from the perspective of someone who does not adhere to their beliefs, so if you have more questions about this group, feel free to research them on your own. There’s a link to their website in the description. That’s a little crash course on that topic. Hoped you learned something, and have a great day!
- Community of Christ website: https://bit.ly/32pIGIW
- The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844, by Michael Quinn: https://bit.ly/2WOY8x3
- From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/36GdcBR