1834 is a transitional year in church history. As the failures of the church to obey the Lord’s commands pile up, the Lord begins to put the pieces in place for what will remain once the fullness is removed.
In February 1834, Joseph Smith convenes the “President’s Standing Council,” effectively the first stake high council. Joseph, Sidney, and Frederick Williams are designated as the presidency.
In April 1834, the Lord declares in D&C 104 that the covenant has been broken and the church is to be cursed.
In May 1834, the name of the church is changed to The Church of Latter Day Saints, missing the name of Christ in stark opposition to 3 Nephi 27.
In June 1834, 15 Elders in Missouri are selected to travel to Kirtland to receive an endowment of power.
In September 1834, a committee calls Joseph, Oliver, Sidney, and Frederick to arrange the items of doctrine of Jesus Christ. This work would become the Doctrine and Covenants, with the Lectures on Faith as the doctrine.
On December 5, the Lord declared condemnation on the leaders of the church.
On December 6, Joseph Smith Sr. is ordained as Church Patriarch. Joseph would later declare the Patriarch to be the highest officer of the church, and D&C 124 would confirm that hierarchy.
Once that change was made, other changes came quickly. In February the Quorums of the Twelve and the Seventy were created. Then the first part of D&C 107 is received which begins to establish the rules of operation for this new church structure. Then during the summer the Doctrine and Covenants is published, for the governance of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
By now the church organization is significantly different than during the fullness. (Click the chart to get a larger version.)
The Twelve and the Seventy are to have no authority inside organized stakes, but they are to travel and administer the church outside the stakes. One thing that surprised me was that the first stake was created just as Zion was faltering. Rather than being an extension of Zion, it seems to have been intended for the exile of Zion, which at the time was promised to be short-lived if the church repented. September 1836 was given as the deadline for redeeming Zion. Once that passed, things deteriorated.
In 1841, the Lord gave Section 124 which listed the church organization. It is basically the same as in 1835, but there is a little bit more information.
The Patriarch is given as the first officer of the church. Interestingly, whereas D&C 107 says the First Presidency is to consist of three High Priests, in 1841 Joseph is identified as the presiding Elder. It appears even Joseph has lost the fullness of the priesthood and has reverted to being an Elder.
Notice the Lord’s description of the High Priest Quorum: “instituted for the purpose of qualifying those who shall be appointed…” This seems almost preparatory in nature, whereas before these High Priests had a “right to officiate in their own standing.”
Finally, the Lord makes it clear that the Quorum of the Twelve, the Quorum of the Seventy, and the stake high council have equal authority. Could you imagine a stake president telling the President of the Quorum of the Twelve to stuff it? Yet this is how the Lord organized things…the Twelve only had authority outside the stakes. My how times have changed.
It’s important to realize that this organization with Stake Presidents, Apostles, and Seventies, is the organization of downgraded church. If we are going to have the fullness restored unto us, I suspect we will first see the Lord’s 1835/1841 organization restored, with Twelve Apostles preaching to the world and leaving the organized stakes alone. Once we redeem Zion, I would expect to see a return to the 1833 organization inside Zion, where other than a president people seem to govern themselves.
As we read the scriptures, it’s critical to keep these different organizational structures in mind, as well as the scriptural definitions of different priesthoods. The misapplication of the term Melchizedek Priesthood to the office of Elder and the continued use of the office of High Priest has definitely muddied the waters. Only by looking back at how the priesthood was referred to and organized during specific periods of the church’s fullness, and comparing that to the state of the church and it’s downgrade, can we decode what the priesthood really looks like, how it should act, and why we don’t see the promises we should have it we truly had the fullness. But it also tells us what we should look for when the Lord sets his hand a second time to recover Israel and redeem Zion.