A few months ago, I attended several family reunions. At the time, I was reading John Hamer’s book, Scattering of the Saints. I was absolutely fascinated with all the accounts of Mormon schismatic groups. I was especially interested in Strangism and the Church of Christ with the Elijah Message. As I told the story of their founding, the reaction of my relatives was incredibly interesting to me.
As Mormons, we all take the visits of Moroni, Jesus, God the Father, John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John as pretty much fact. In order to be a Mormon, you pretty much have to believe these things happened.
We take it as a fact that Moses received the 10 Commandments carved by the finger of God, Mary saw the Angel Gabriel, and many other heavenly angels visited mortals on earth.
But if it’s not in the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, or Pearl of Great Price, we just don’t take angelic visitations seriously. We don’t know what to think about non-biblical angels. For example, we don’t accept it as fact that the Angel Gabriel visited Mohammed, or that Joan of Arc had a heavenly visit, or the Virgin Mary has appeared to numerous Catholics, or that Jesus appeared to Ann Lee (founder of the Shakers), or anybody else. When we hear these stories, we say, “Yeah, whatever.” As Mormons, you’d think we’d be more open to the idea, but we’re not.
I’ve discussed Strangism previously, but I want to share a little more about James Strang’s “First Vision” (for lack of a better word.) Robin Jensen details the beginning of the Strangite movement in Hamer’s book, Scattering of the Saints. The title of his chapter is called “Mormons Seeking Mormonism.” James Strang joined the church in February 1844 (baptized by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo), just a few months prior to Joseph’s death. A few days after his baptism, he was ordained an elder, and Smith sent Strang back to his home in Wisconsin with the idea that it could be a possible future home of the saints. Strang wrote a glowing letter praising Wisconsin. Strang claims that he received a letter from Joseph Smith, appointing Strang as the next prophet of the church, known by Strangites as the “Letter of Appointment”. Quoting from page 117,
On the same day that Smith is supposed to have written the letter, Strang reported that he received a vision: a future Mormon city called Voree— spectacularly built up near Burlington as a gathering place for the Latter Day Saints.9 Ten days later, on the fateful day of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith— but weeks before Strang would have received the Letter of Appointment— Strang reported that he experienced a second vision. This time an angel appeared to him, anointed his head, gave him instructions concerning his mission, and prophesied about the future.10 The followers of Strang would argue that the Letter of Appointment and the two visitations authenticated Strang’s succession to the leadership of the Latter Day Saint movement.11
As you can imagine, there was controversy from the beginning about whether the letter was authentic, and whether Strang had really received an angelic visit. I remember relating this story to a relative, and his reaction was “Yeah, Whatever.” I will mention that Strang convinced Joseph’s brother, William to join his movement for a time (William later left for the RLDS church), and convinced Martin Harris to go on a mission for the Strangite church. The official name of the Strangite Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; it has different punctuation than the Mormon church’s official name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spoke with Robin Jensen at the MHA conference and learned that one of his ancestors served a mission with Martin Harris for the Strangite church. In the 1840’s-50’s, the Strangite church rivaled the Brigham Young church in size. It was definitely a force to be reckoned with until the death of James Strang.
But that’s not the only angelic ministration of a Mormon group. (I’m sure there are many more that I am not highlighting here.) I’d like to discuss a visit to Granville Hedrick next. R Jean Addams discusses “The Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Its Emergence, Struggles and Early Schisms.” After Joseph’s death 4 Illinois branches (Eagle Creek, Half Moon Prairie, Crow Creek, and Bloomington) and another in Indiana (Vermillion) consolidated together, forming an organization originally known as the “Church of Christ (Of Latter Day Saints).” They soon changed the name back to the original name given to Joseph Smith in 1830: “Church of Christ.” (Sometimes the Hedrickites are referred to as “Temple Lot Mormons.”) Addams describes a bit more history on page 207.
At a conference of the newly merged church held on 1863, John E. Page, an apostle in Joseph Smith’s Council of the Twelve and, since 1862, a member of the Crow Creek Branch,6 ordained Granville Hedrick an apostle. Hedrick was a local farmer and an elder in the early Mormon church who was generally accepted as the leader of the Crow Creek Branch. In addition to Hedrick, Page ordained three other local members as apostles, “thus forming a quorum of five apostles in the Church of Christ” (including John E. Page himself.)7 Page later ordained Granville Hedrick on 19 July 1863 “to the office of the First Presidency of the Church, to preside over the High Priesthood and to be a prophet, seer, revelator and translator to the Church of Christ.”8
In 1864, Granville Hedrick, now a prophet of the church, received a revelation which was almost immediately published in the first edition of his church’s newspaper, the Truth Teller.9 Hedrick reported that he was visited by an angel, who instructed his church “gather together upon the consecrated land which I have appointed and dedicated by My servant Joseph Smithâ€¦in Jackson County, state of Missouri.” They were specifically told to: “be ready against the appointed time which I have set and prepared for you, that you may return in the year AD 1867, which time the Lord, by your prayers and faithfulness in all things, will open and prepare a way before you that you may begin to gather at that time.”10 Thus, the time was set for a gathering of these people in 1867 to return and reclaim the center place of Zion or, more specifically, the temple lot— thus fulfilling the revelation given to Joseph Smith in July 1831.”
The Hedrickite group returned to Missouri and purchased the actual spot where Joseph Smith said the temple (or temples— actually there were supposed to be 24— 12 Aaronic and 12 Melchizedek temples) was supposed to stand. Addams details a few of the legal battles between the Hedrickite group and the RLDS church for ownership of the land. The RLDS felt they were the rightful heirs of the temple lot, and originally won a court battle, but on appeal, the Hedrickite group won the court case. The case nearly bankrupted the Hedrickites. At the time of the court battle, Addams says the official membership in 1896 for the Hedrickites was 55; the RLDS church had 25,368 members. Jason R Smith in the next chapter of “Scattering of the Hedrickites” notes on page 229 that
“the LDS church decided to throw its weight behind the Church of Christ in order to weaken the RLDS church’s case. A number of prominent LDS members testified in the suit, including LDS presidents Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow, and three women who claimed to have been sealed to Joseph Smith in marriage.”26
I want to turn to another story involving the Hedrickites and angelic visitations. There have been several attempts of reconciliation between the Hedrickites and RLDS church. In the 1920’s, the two churches signed (from page 219)
Agreements of Working Harmony, a new level of cooperation and compatibilityâ€¦One of the points agreed to in the articles provided for the transfer of membership records between the organizations. Specifically, Article 7 states “Agreed that we believe that there are individuals in the difference factions who hold the priesthood,” while Article 24 reads: “therefore, be it mutually agreed, that each recognize the standing of the other as representing Christ, the Master, and the priesthood of each as legally binding before God, when done in accordance with the law.”63 As a direct result of this article of agreement and the onset of approximately 3,000 individuals transferred from the RLDS church to the Church of Christ during the 1920’s.
Jason R. Smith said on page 231, (quotations below have been rearranged)
This rapid influx of new members had a tremendous impact on the Church of Christ. Until this time, the Church of Christ had been a small organization consisting of only a handful of families. The crisis and the resulting surge it gave to the Church of Christ also allowed it to finally stand more on its own.
The Church of Christ made several changes in response to the new policies of the RLDS church. At their October 1925 conference, it was decided to abolish the office of presiding elder and to organize the church under the direction of the apostles. To this end, a committee of five men was established to lead the church until such time as it became evident who would serve in the new capacity. The question was answered with a revelation at the church’s next April conference calling seven men to serve as apostles in the new quorum. Seven apostles were selected at that conference: Daniel McGregor, Hiram E. Moler, Samuel Wood, Clarence L. Wheaton, Frank F. Wipper, Otto Fetting, and Norris Headding. With the exception of Wheaton, all were transferees from the RLDS church. Within the next two years, six more former RLDS members were selected as apostles in the Church of Christ.40
Otto Fetting, one of the former RLDS members ordained in the initial Council of Twelve Apostles, would exert an influence on the Church of Christ— one that can still be felt today. As apostle, Fetting wrote and preached on the need to build up Zion, both spiritually and physically. He also made this topic a matter of intense personal study and contemplation.42 According to Fetting, a wonderful event happened to him on 4 February 1927. As he described the event:
A messenger appeared to me February 4, 1927, at my home, 801 Tenth Street, Port Huron, Michigan, at 5:20 a.m. I got up at 5 a.m., fixed the furnace, washed and sat down in an easy rocker to wait for the fire to start up good so I could shut off the furnace. I had turned off the light but the street light shining through the front door made it somewhat light in the room. I was not thinking about the church at all at the time, but was about to doze a little when all at once someone gave me a slap on my shoulder. He slapped me real hard and I looked up and saw the form of a man standing just a little way from me in the light of the door. He was about six feet three inches, very fine built and about thirty or thirty-five years of age. His hair was down to his coat collar. He had a beard. His voice was soft and his looks mild but much in earnest.43
The Messenger gave Fetting several instructions to deliver to the membership, most notably that “the revelation that was given for the building of the temple was true and the temple soon will be started.”44 Exactly one month later, the Messenger visited Fetting again, this time revealing his true identity as the resurrected John the Baptist. Just as John had come in the spring of 1829 to bestow the Aaronic priesthood on Joseph Smith, he had now come to direct the Church of Christ through Fetting.
At first it appears that the Church of Christ enthusiastically accepted these visitations as genuine. There was even a ground breaking ceremony (Smith shows a photo with Fetting preaching and a shovel preparing to break ground for the temple on 1929), but over time the Church of Christ distanced itself from Fetting. The Twelfth message proved to be particularly divisive because (from page 235)
Fetting and Gates interpreted this instruction to mean that all of those who had transferred to the Church of Christ— which they themselves had done— must be re-baptized in order to please God. Many church members, including a majority of the apostles, found this innovation unacceptable.
Smith says that following the October 1929 conference,
Fetting left the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and began holding his own meetings. About 1,400 people— roughly one-third of the membership— left with him to establish another group, which was also called the Church of Christ.60 Before his death in 1933, Otto Fetting received another fifteen messages from the Messenger. The church he started has since splintered into many other groups which, all of which believe in the mission of the Messenger and that they are a faithful remnant of the church on the temple lot.
At the MHA conference in May, I became acquainted with Apostle Paul Savage of the Church of Christ, one of these splintered groups. Paul gave me some official church literature, and I note that they claim to be “The church with the Elijah Message”, or perhaps more accurately, “The Church of Christ with the Elijah Message. Paul disputes some of the “official” history in Hamer’s book, so I sent him an email asking for corrections. I have invited him to participate here.
He gave me a copy of the “Brief Historical Background of the Church of Christ ‘with the Elijah Message’.” Quoting from the pamphlet,
The Church of Christ of Independence, Missouri derives its authority, and its existence, not alone from the visits of the Angel, John the Baptist, for it is a remnant of the church organized on April 6, 1830, at Fayette, N.Y., by Joseph Smith and his fellow workers in the great Restoration movement. Therefore it is not a faction as are other restoration groups. The angel, the Elias, the resurrected John the Baptist, in the regeneration process conferred a great authority by the touch of his hands upon our late brother Otto Fetting when he established the church anew in 1929.
The causes leading to the disruption of the church in 1844 were many. When the church was organized in 1830, it was called The Church of Christ; and the Twelve Apostles were the highest officers provided for in the law. But in 1832 a Quorum of First Presidency began to be formed, and by 1834 the Revelation which provided for Apostles first, were changed to admit a Presidency and other officers.
In this year also the name of the Church of Christ was dropped and a new name the “Church of the Latter Day Saints” adopted and in 1838 the name of the Church was again changed to: the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”
The Revelation as originally given had been published in 1833 in the “Book of Commandments,” but in 1835 they were published in their changed form as the “Doctrine and Covenants.” The corrupted Revelations wrought much evil in the church, confusing the minds of the people, and were largely responsible for the disruption that followed the death of Joseph Smith.
At the breaking up of the church, Brigham Young led the largest faction to Utah. William B. Smith and J.J. Strang led a faction also. Later Z.H. Gurley left Strang, and Jason W. Briggs left William B. Smith. These two united and were the chief promoters in forming another organization in 1852 which they named the “New Organization.” To this body Joseph Smith, the son of the slain prophet, came in 1860 and became its President, and its name was changed to the “Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” In 1925, this faction voted to give its President supreme directional control over the church, with the power of discipline. This continues to cause much dissatisfactionâ€¦and many transferred their membership from that organization to the “Remnant” on the Temple Lot who were holding to the original name of the church and were seeking the old, old paths. The Lord spoke to them that the time had come for the church to go forward and to choose out the new apostles, that the Lord would send his angels to direct. Seven men were chosen to occupy; one of these men was Otto Fetting.
At the 1927 spring Conference, Brother Fetting announced that a heavenly Messenger had appeared to him twice and he read the two messages to the people and there was great rejoicing. The Remnant has continued with the Message believers from that time onward.
After the Messenger who said that he was John the Baptist, the Elias that was for to come and restore all things, had brought Thirty (30) Messages Brother Fetting passed from this life. Four (4) years later, the Messenger came again to continue his unfinished mission. This time he came to a young Elder W. A. Draves. To date, of this reprint, there are Ninety-Six Messages full of inspiration, instruction, warnings, and prophecy. The Remnant continues with the Message believers. His sheep know the Shepherd’s voice and there is safety in the Word of the Lord. The Call goes out to all: “Whomsoever will may come and partake of the water of life freely.”
The Church of Christ is not a faction, but a Remnant of the church of 1830, bearing the same name teaching the same doctrine, believing the same truths, practicing the same virtues, and enjoying the same Spirit and a new touch of the Angel’s hands— and his continued visits bring peace and directions from the Lord to prepare us for Christ’s soon coming.
In 1994, W. A. Draves passed away, and the church broke up into 4 smaller groups. Paul gave me a copy of these Messages, and there are 120 Messages received between Draves and Fetting. Jason R. Smith details on page 240 that some of Draves sons split with each other. Leonard formed
the Church of Christ with Elijah Message, Inc.84 Leonard’s group was not immune from dissension as he and other church officers were “removed from ministry and membership in [a] special called apostles’ meeting.” In July 200385 this action was upheld by a judge and Leonard formed the Church of Christ with Elijah Message, the Assured Way of the Lord, Inc. on February 2004.
Another young elder, Jared Smith, reported that he had begun receiving messages from John the Baptist in 1997. He does not appear to have organized a following, but he has posted at least 10 of his messages on the Internet. His claim is slightly different than Fetting and Draves, however, as he states he receives the messages by revelation rather than in face-to-face encounters with the angel.87
When I met Paul this summer at the MHA conference, he said that there are some inaccuracies reported in the book. I asked him to respond about these inaccuracies. His main issue was that he did not believe that Jared Smith was credible. Savage feels Jared Smith’s revelations are extremely suspect, and he hopes that nobody takes Smith’s revelations seriously.
I have always found these visits by John the Baptist especially interesting. First of all, Jesus said that “there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” Wikipedia has some information about a group called the Mandeans of Iran and Iraq. They claim to have been founded by John the Baptist, and trace their roots to his life. They also claim that Jesus is a false prophet. Certainly there are some very interesting facts concerning this man that the Bible touches on so briefly.
So, what do you make of all these angelic visitations? Why do you think Mormons are so quick to accept Joseph Smith’s visions, while discounting all of these others?