The Church of Jesus Christ was an unorganized restorational movement while Joseph Smith Jr. divined the Book of Mormon. It was formally organized on April 6, 1830, the first year of the latter-day jubilee. The young church went through many changes, growing line upon line, precept upon precept.
With each new change, there were those that left to start a new branch of the young movement, expanding its reach. In 1844 the church, then known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was ready to divide once again, this time over the issue of polygamy. With the death of Joseph Smith Jr. and his brother Hiram at the hands of a mob, this time the divide would be far more dramatic.
With Sydney Rigdon as the sole member of the First Presidency, and the 12 Apostles still organized, a fight ensued. Rather than working together and going to the Lord for guidance, Brigham Young took his followers out west. He declared himself prophet and president in 1847. In 1851 he formed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many other denominations branched from his fraction. Today his branch is the largest and wealthiest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement, Mormon or otherwise.
Sidney Rigdon took his followers back east, to Pennsylvania. There he used his keys as a member of the First Presidency, the same keys held by the collective 12 apostles, to create the Church of Jesus Christ of the Children of Zion. There, he declared Joseph Smith and the 12 as fallen for their practice of polygamy.
The Smith family and others from the original Church of Jesus Christ followed James Strang to continue Joseph Smith’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Like Smith, Strang “translated” new scripture found in the earth and added new revelations to the Latter Day Saints. Many of the members left however, once Strang received revelation to practice polygamy. This included the Smith family.
Eventually Strang was murdered, similarly to his predecessor, Joseph Smith Jr. There are now approximately 300 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints remaining.
Over time the many smaller Latter Day Saint congregations reorganized. The keys to the Kingdom held by Rigdon and James Strang, as a prophets, seers, and revelators were passed down through apostles from the Children of Zion to Joseph Smith III, son of Joseph Smith Jr. Today the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the second largest denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement, with its own splinter groups.
There are over 100 Latter Day Saint denominations today, all branching from these and other Latter Day Saint sects. While all are Latter Day Saints, only those that accept Joseph Smith’s teachings and revelations in Nauvoo typically see themselves as “Mormons.”
For over 185 years, Latter Day Saint denominations have grown, changed, and evolved into churches none of the founders would recognize, for better or worse. None of the branches exercise all of the keys passed from the heavens to the earth through the prophet and Elias, Joseph Smith. Rather, each provides a home for Latter Day Saint restorational Christians to worship Christ in a way comfortable for them. This allows all to grow in Christ’s Grace in a denomination that works for them.
All Latter Day Saint and Mormon branches are still a part of the greater Church of Jesus Christ. For example, Thomas S. Monson of the LDS church, as an apostle, holds the same keys as Stephen M. Veazey, as one with the keys of the Fist Presidency. Both merely exercise different portions of these sacred keys, using only what they need for their branches of the kingdom. Thus both are part of the universal Church of Christ, and members of each denomination, and all other denominations, have found peace in this.
Today, the Lord has called the Fellowship to create an movement within Mormonism. Not another church, but a place for nondenominational Christians to find shelter. A Latter Day Saint tradition that rejects the secret combinations, exclusion, and bigotry. We accept all, and together create a safe haven for those that do not feel the can call any of the existing branches home.
Because all of the Latter Day Saint and Mormon branches can trace their priesthood keys back to Joseph Smith, there is no need for re-baptism, re-conformation, Initiatories, or Endowments for those entering the Fellowship. We do not even ask anyone to leave the denominations to which they may belong, as we see all Latter Day Saint/Mormon denominations as a part of the Fellowship. One could say the Fellowship is the largest Latter Day Saint denomination as we welcome and accept all 16 million members of the various denominations as members of the Fellowship.
While it is true that most Latter Day Saint denominations feel they are the one and only true church, it is the Lord permits these branches to exist as long as they bring souls to Christ. All hold at least some truth, and are thus branches of the Church of Christ. Each branch continues a portion of the work, on their own, even if disconnected from their fellow Saints.
Today, the Fellowship welcomes all that wish to worship with us, Protestants, Catholics, Latter Day Saints – all Christians are welcome. We do not ask anyone to leave their denominations to do so, but rather see every branch as a part of the same tree (the Church of Jesus Christ).
For a list of some of the Mormon churches the Keys of the Priesthood were passed down through, click here.
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