Early Mormonism Evolved Rapidly

You can find the roots for much of the rich diversity in the Latter Day Saint movement today in the experience of the early church period (late 1820s–1844).  Early believers, like Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, the Whitmer family, along with Emma Smith and Joseph Smith’s siblings and parents, had a very different initial encounter with the faith than those who joined after the publication of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the Church of Christ.  The church these first members later experienced in Kirtland and Missouri had evolved rapidly.  By 1835, the renamed “Church of the Latter Day Saints” looked radically different than the “Church of Christ” they had known in 1830.  These charts of priesthood offices are just one example of that change.



Structural changes continued after the collapse of the church in Kirtland (1837–38) and during the events of the Missouri-Mormon war and its aftermath (1838–39).  In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith would go on to construct a kind of inner (secret) church within the church, by creating new groups such as the Anointed Quorum, and restoring the Kingdom (as separate from the priesthood and the church) and its living constitution, the Council of Fifty.  It is little wonder that the movement was continually throwing off members who had signed up for earlier incarnations of the faith.  David Whitmer, for example, could accurately make the argument that the church had left him (and not vice versa).

As different Latter Day Saint tradition churches have looked back to the early period, they have found a rich grab-bag of ideas and precedents.  No group can embrace them all; instead, each church has taken the part of the original experience that it finds most meaningful to its own experience.


4 comments on “Early Mormonism Evolved Rapidly

  1. Alex says:

    This is interesting. And kind of damning.

    What’s the source on this? The History of the Church?

  2. John Hamer says:

    Hey Alex: Actually this comes from multiple sources. A great overview is Greg Prince’s book on the development of ideas and offices of priesthood in early Mormonism: http://www.amazon.com/Power-High-Development-Mormon-Priesthood/dp/156085071X/

    Another place to go is Vol. 1 of Mike Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy series.

  3. […]   Some of Ben Park’s published articles. John Hamer’s website. […]

  4. […] “Early Mormonism Evolved Rapidly” by John Hamer […]

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