History of the Bickertonites

The Church of Jesus Christ (based in Monongahela, Pennsylvania) traces its roots to Joseph Smith.  I previously discussed its most famous former member, rock star Alice Cooper.  I thought I could give a bit more history of this church and discuss basic beliefs.  Larry Watson wrote a chapter in John Hamer and Newell Bringhurst’s book Scattering of the Saints.

Joseph Smith was running for President of the United States at the time of his death.  Sidney Rigdon was his Vice Presidentail running mate.  If the Pres and VP are from the same state, that state’s Electoral College votes are removed, so Joseph called Sidney on a mission to his home state of Pennsylvania.  Rigdon had been there a short time when he learned Smith had been killed at Carthage Jail.

Joseph did not clearly define who would lead the church in the event of his death.  Michael Quinn has documented 15 legitimate claims to leadership of the church Joseph led.  Rigdon and Brigham Young had a dispute leading to a split.  Rigdon and Young’s doctrinal split dealt primarily with polygamy, with Rigdon strongly opposing polygamy.  On April 6, 1845, Rigdon formally organized “The Church of Christ.”  One of his converts was a man by the name of William Bickerton, baptized into Rigdon’s church in 1845.  Foster quotes Bickerton on page 192,

He [Sidney Rigdon] went wrong after he came to Pittsburgh.  He wanted to make a gathering in the Emlenton Valley of the Allegheny Mountains.  At the same time he had organized a School of the Prophets, or Solemn Assemblies, and many things were revealed to us showing things were going wrong…After Rigdon went wrong, all that followed him fell away, and I was left alone.[Biography of William Bickerton, unpublished manuscript in the possession of the Historical Committee of The Church of Jesus Christ.]

At this point, finding himself without a church, Bickerton had the following experience:

[I]n the vision, I was on the highest mountain in the earth; and [God] told me that if I did not preach the Gospel, I would fall into a dreadful chasm below, the sight thereof was awful.  I moved with fear, having the Holy Spirit.  Here there was none to assist me and, without learning, poplar opinion against me, and the Salt Lake Mormons stood in the way.  I could not return back into Methodism again.  No, I knew they had not the Gospel.  I stood in contemplation.  The chasm was before me, no other alternative but to do my duty to God and man.  I went ahead preaching repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Some believed in my testimony and were baptized, and we met together….[The Ensign, (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1863), 10]

William Bickerton began preaching the restored gospel in West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, where he developed a following who worshipped with him regularly.  Left without an organization, but convinced of the truth of the Restoration, Bickerton associated with Brigham Young’s organization for a short while in 1851-52.  In 1852, Bickerton was visited by representatives of Brigham Young.  During the meeting, the elders explained to William Bickerton that he was required to teach polygamy, which he resolutely refused to do.  On 10 March 1853, Bickerton and his group at West Elizabeth formally separated from Young’s organization, in his words, “because of the adultery and general wickedness”.8

From this point on, Bickerton strongly challenged Young’s teachings on polygamy.  Freed from the influence of Young’s followers, Bickerton taught that the Bible and the Book of Mormon alone were the word of God.  The book of latter-day revelations known as the Doctrine and Covenants, in its various edited forms, was rejected because it introduced doctrines deemed to be contrary to the pure gospel of Christ, such as baptism for the dead.

It is apparent that the Latter Day Saints affiliated with Bickerton did not see themselves as splitting from the church organized with Joseph Smith.  Instead they saw themselves as the continuation of Smith’s church.  From their perspective, Brigham Young led a group of “apostates.”

The chapter discusses other spiritual manifestations that occurred, such as speaking in tongues.  Bickerton organized The Ensign as its official publication (of which I quoted above.)  While it held the same name as the Salt Lake Church, the name of the church was eventually shortened to simply “The Church of Jesus Christ“.  A large group of members organized in Kansas.  Two presidents were elected: William Cadman in the East, and William Bickerton in the West.  In 1880, church charges were brought against Bickerton, and his priesthood was suspended.  He challenged these charges in a court of law and was reinstated in the church in 1902, passing away in 1905.

Under Cadman’s presidency, church headquarters returned to Pennsylvania.  He also died in 1905; Alexander Cherry was elected president, serving from 1906-1921.  A few groups split off from the Bickertonite church during Cherry’s presidency, fizzling out fairly quickly.  Cadman’s son William served as president from 1922-1963.  Thurman Furnier was president from 1963-1965.  (I suspect he is related to Alice Cooper’s father, Ether Moroni Furnier.)  Other presidents were Gorie Ciaravino and Dominic Thomas.  The current president is Paul Palmieri.  As of 2007, there were 3000 members in the US, and 8000 members in 20 nations (for a total of 11,000 members).

Watson discusses some of their basic beliefs.  Bickertonites accept a different version of the First Vision account than the official LDS version.  Rather than baptizing by immersion at age 8, they baptize when a person reaches a certain maturity level.  They believe in only 2 destinations after this life: heaven and hell.  At the First Resurrection, the righteous will be resurrected.  During the Second Resurrection, all remaining spirits “will be resurrected with the same attitudes and desires with which they died” (from page 199).

There are some interesting points on page 200.

  • “The Church that God accepted it as He had accepted the Church that Alma founded— cloaked with his full authority.”
  • “The church represents itself as a restoration of the true ancient apostolic church which they believe went into apostasy.  Although the Church of Jesus Christ believes that it is the only ‘true’ church, they do not imply that all other spiritual paths are totally false.  The church believes they have received the ‘fullness of the Gospel’ and that other Christian denominations and world religions have the ‘gospel’ and that other Christian denominations and world religions may have the ‘gospel’ but not in its fullness with respect to doctrines, ordinances and sacraments as found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.”
  • “The church does not accept the ‘Aaronic’ and ‘Melchizedek’ Priesthoods….There is only one priesthood in the church— the priesthood after the order of the Son of God.”
    • They have 12 apostles, 70 evangelists, a First Presidency.  Elders lead congregations; teachers, deacons, and deaconesses are assistants to the ministry.  They have an unpaid ministry.
  • [page 202]   “The Church of Jesus Christ, today, does not ordain men as prophets or seers, nor does it take the position that revelations to the church may only come by way of the presidency, the apostles, or even the priesthood.  The church does believe, however, that the primary criterion by which to judge a revelation is whether it is consistent with the word of God.”

They do not build temples.  They have accepted racial integration from the beginning of the church, and has a strong history of opposing the Ku Klux Klan after World War 1.  Marriage is for this life only.

I found the chapter very interesting, and felt that it does a very good job of explaining similarities and differences between the LDS church.  Questions?


12 comments on “History of the Bickertonites

  1. The Bickertonites also were the first restoration group to publish The Book Of Mormon in italian, according to one source.

  2. interesting. I wonder if vincenzo defrancesca got a copy of the bom from the bickertonites rather than the mormons in the movie ‘how rare a possession.’

  3. The LDS Church used to buy Italian Book of Mormons from the Bickertonites. I don’t know the Vincenzo DeFrancesca story details, but if he got an Italian Book of Mormon prior to the mid-1960s, it was probably published by the Bickertonites.

  4. John, how do you know all this stuff??? That is so cool, I had to do a Google search and learned Vincenzo DeFrancesca was baptized in 1951 and died in 1966, so he probably did get a Bickertonite Book of Mormon. Apparently he knew of the book as early as 1930. Amazing!!!!!

    Here’s the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincenzo_Di_Francesca

  5. I do have to say it is very interesting to learn the history if my church. I was born and raised there but after my parents divorce they were no lonnger welcome so I eventauly no longer had the chance to go. Needless to say it was a great child hood and I owe them for the person I am today.

  6. Israel, welcome. I’m glad you were able to learn some cool stuff about your church.

  7. Excellent information. I am a member (Ordained Teacher also) of The Church of Jesus Christ. Larry Watson is married to my cousin and I know him well. Also, I knew Dominic Thomas (Very well,) Gorie Ciaravino, and Paul Palmieri.

    I think Thurman Furnier is Alice Cooper’s (Vincent Furnier) grandfather.

    I’m sorry to hear that Israel felt his parents were no longer welcome post-divorce. I know it was a tough issue for the church. Forgiveness should be our cornerstone. Where did you grow up/attend? I grew up south of Detroit.

    I’m glad I found your site…I look forward to looking through it more closely.

  8. […] the church, he started his own church in Pennsylvania.  (I blogged about this group previously here and here.)  As noted in the 2nd link, Sidney Rigdon had many revelations between 1863 and 1873. […]

  9. dan, a few questions came to me raised in The Church of Jesus Christ myself…… the biography of william bickerton is as this article states above…… an “unpublished manuscript in possession of the historical committee of the church”? is it available to the public or lay person at all? if so, why not? and this thing called “the Ensign” if memory serves me correctly is it not a pamphlet written by Bickerton and in possession of the Mormons? I am attempting extensive research on this matter to find out who had the real truth and who stole what from who……? so much digging and prodding and so much lack of answers from the questions i ask the Mormons……..

  10. I am named after Mary Cadman Love. I am a decedent of William Cadman and my family came from Monongahela and East Elizabeth,PA. I am just learning about these people. Interesting!

  11. I am also a descendant of William Cadman through his daughter, Mary Cadman Love. I am fascinated by the Bickertonites and the family connection. I am curious if Robert Sparkes Love was involved in the church before meeting Mary Cadman or if he converted upon meeting her.

  12. My name is William A Tickhill. My grandfather was Charles Tickhill,one of the Quorum Of Twelve Apostles, grandmother Margaret (Cadman) Tickhill. Any information about faith and family would be sincerely appreciated..

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