Summertime and Recycling #3. D&C 107. Part 1: Background.
July 1, 2011 Leave a comment
This will keep the vacation going!——–
Section 107 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants is often quoted as fundamental in determining succession in the presidency of the church (indeed, it was so quoted in the post martyrdom conference of August 1844). It plays a role in outlining the organizational structure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as some other parts of the post-Joseph Smith Mormon diaspora. The focus of D&C 107 is priesthood structure and church government. It is a remarkable document for many reasons and I will not try to cover each aspect of the text in these posts.
In a sense, the development of priesthood structure in early Mormonism seems somewhat chaotic when compared to present praxis. Early revelations established Book of Mormon-like officers: teachers, priests, elders (the word “apostle” is used, but is defined as an elder). Within a year or so the office of deacon was added. There was no division of authority (no “Aaronic Priesthood” or “Melchizedek Priesthood”), merely named offices with different permitted practice for each one (except in the case of deacon which was allowed to do the duties of the teacher, as required). A Teacher would preside in a congregation where no other officers were present. A Priest would preside in the absence of elders. In practice, congregations or impromptu meetings would generally select the presiding officer from among the eligible office holders (but see below).
Duties of the various offices were at least partly like those found in some branches of Protestantism, such as home visiting of members, performing baptisms, administering the Lord’s supper, etc. The basic organizational structure consisted of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as “first and second elder” respectively together with the mentioned pecking order among the early offices.
In June 1831, the office of high priest was introduced during a multi-day conference. The office was added to the list of those already given, and was regarded as a higher office with duties that had not surfaced previously, particularly in the area of salvation assurance. Previous to this, the office of bishop had been established with certain open ended duties whose relationship to other church officers was unclear. (Edward Partridge was ordained a bishop February 4, 1831. Partridge was ordained a high priest in June, but the nature of his bishopric in that circumstance was not clear at the time.) Local branches of the church selected their leader from among branch members or they were appointed by missionaries who enrolled converts in the area. But priesthood offices were still without a formal internal organization. This organization would be added in November 1831 with a revelation given on the 11th at Hiram, Ohio. The original “autograph” of the revelation may be lost, but a very early copy is found in Revelation Book 1 (The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books 217-18). This copy is in the handwriting of John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery. It was intended to appear in the Book of Commandments, but did not by virtue of the destruction of the printing office in Independence, MO in 1833.
In part 2 of this post we give the Whitmer portion of the original text of the revelation of November 11, 1831 based on the manuscript copy, with some comment.
Part 2 is here.
 A striking difference was the duty of elders to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
 Mark L. Staker, Hearken, O Ye People, chapter 12. This innovation/restoration gets very little air play in the modern church, but it was a major development. Part of the reason for this lack of attention was the careful emphasis on the apostolic office by the post martyrdom quorum of the twelve. The demotion of “the high priesthood” would help insure no official competition for church leadership. It was an effective strategy in the long run but it probably obscured the nature of church government during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.