Something has recently come to my attention and it might be very important. I have no expectations for what happens with the information presented here. No matter what, I plan on standing with my brothers and sisters in September, hopeful to receive a covenant from the Lord. I believe we can if we repent, despite our weaknesses which have prevented us from removing all errors from the scriptures. I feel nothing but love for everyone who has worked on any part of the scriptures, whether they are on any committees or not. With that said, here is something potentially critical to our efforts to repent, specifically the assignment to have a statement of principles that we have not been excused from writing.
Out of all the governing principles documents out there, there is only one that is unequivocally given by revelation and presents itself as the words of Christ Himself. Additionally, the author of the document was identified by Christ as His apostle. Finally, the document relies almost exclusively upon the keystone of our religion and the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon; and the former commandments received through Joseph Smith. The governing principles document I speak of is the Articles of the Church of Christ given by revelation to Oliver Cowdery.
In June of 1829, the Lord told Oliver (whose very name is associated with a latin term meaning “olive tree planter”),
NOW behold, because of the thing which you have desired to know of me, I give unto you these words: Behold I have manifested unto you, by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you have written are true: Wherefore you know that they are true; and if you know that they are true, behold I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written, concerning my church, my gospel, and my rock. Wherefore if you shall build up my church, and my gospel, and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.
Oliver Cowdery had written a great deal of the Book of Mormon during the translation process and the Lord was testifying of its truthfulness to him (something Oliver already knew). The Lord commanded Oliver to build up the Church by relying upon the (extremely weak) words of the Book of Mormon. Oliver did just that when, later that month, he received the Articles of the Church of Christ by revelation.
It’s important to note that Oliver’s revelation IS NOT the original version of D&C 20. Section 20 started out as the “Articles and Covenants” given a year after Oliver wrote his revelation. Section 20 is not in the voice of Christ while Oliver’s Articles are in the voice of Christ. Section 20 was always treated as distinct from the revelation given to Oliver. John Whitmer, the church historian, recognized the two as discrete texts. He included only one version of every revelation in Revelation Book 1 (even when revelations were later expanded) and both texts are found in that book.
The Articles of the Church of Christ are presented here in full. Conveniently, someone else did some research to show how obedient Oliver was to “rely upon the things which are written”. Words in bold are quotes from the Book of Mormon. Underlined words are quotes from the Lord’s words given to Oliver quoted above.
A commandment from God unto Oliver [Cowdery] how he should build up his Church & the manner thereof——
Saying Oliver listen to the voice of Christ your Lord & your God & your Redeemer & write the words which I shall command you concerning my Church my Gospel my Rock & my Salvation. Behold the world is ripening in iniquity & it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance both the Gentiles & also the House of Israel for behold I command all men everywhere to repent & I speak unto you even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called Now therefore whosoever repenteth & humbleth himself before me & desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them And after this manner did he command me that I should baptize them Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my name shall ye baptize them And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen And then shall ye immerse them in the water & come forth again out of the water & after this manner shall ye baptize in my name For behold verily I say unto you That the Father & the Son & the Holy Ghost are one & I am in the Father & the Father in me & the Father & I are one
And ye are also called to ordain Priests & Teachers according to the gifts & callings of God unto men & after this manner shall ye ordain them Ye shall pray unto the Father in my name & then shall ye lay your hands upon them & say In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a Priest or if he be a Teacher I ordain you to be a Teacher to preach repentance & remission of sins through Jesus Christ by the endurance of faith on his name to the end Amen And this shall be the duty of the Priest He shall kneel down & the members of the Church shall kneel also which Church shall be called The Church of Christ & he shall pray to the Father in my name for the church & if it so be that it be built upon my Rock I will bless it And after that ye have prayed to the Father in my name ye shall preach the truth in soberness casting out none from among you but rather invite them to come And the Church shall oft partake of bread & wine & after this manner shall ye partake of it The Elder or Priest shall minister it & after this manner shall he do he shall kneel with the Church & pray to the Father in the name of Christ & then shall ye say O God the Eternal Father we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ to bless & sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it that they may eat <eat> in remembrance of the body of thy Son & witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son & always remember him & keep his commandments which he hath given them that they may always have his spirit to be with them Amen
And then shall ye take the cup & say O God the Eternal Father we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ to bless & sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it that they may do in remembrance of the blood of thy Son which was shed for them that they may witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they do always remember him that they may have his spirit to be with them Amen
And now behold I give unto you a commandment that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh & blood unworthily when ye shall minister it for whoso eateth & drinketh my flesh & blood unworthily eateth & drinketh damnation to his soul Therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat & drink of my flesh & blood ye shall forbid him nevertheless ye shall not cast him out from among you but ye shall minister unto him & shall pray for him unto the Father in my name & if it so be that he repenteth & is baptized in my name then shall ye receive him & shall minister unto him of my flesh & blood but if he repenteth not he shall not be numbered among my people that he may not destroy my people For behold I know my Sheep & they are numbered nevertheless ye shall not cast him out of your Synagogues or your places of worship for unto such shall ye continue to minister for ye know not but what they will return & repent & come unto me with full purpose of heart & I shall heal <heal> them & ye shall be the means of bringing Salvation unto them Therefore keep these sayings which I have commanded you that ye come not under condemnation for wo unto him whom the Father condemneth——
And the church shall meet together oft for prayer & suplication casting out none from your places of worship but rather invite them to come And each member shall speak & tell the church of their progress in the way to Eternal life
And there shall be no pride nor envying nor strifes nor malice nor idoletry nor witchcrafts nor whoredoms nor fornications nor covetiousness nor lying nor deceits nor no manner of iniquity & if any one is guilty of any or the least of these & doth not repent & shew fruits meets <meats> for repentance they shall not be numbered among my people that they may not destroy my people
And now I speak unto the Church Repent all ye ends of the Earth & come unto me & be baptized in my name which is Jesus Christ & endure to the end & ye shall be saved Behold Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father & there is none other name given whereby man can be saved Therefore all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father for in that name shall they be called at the last <day> Therefore if they know not the name by which they are called they cannot have place in the Kingdom of my Father Behold ye must walk uprightly before me & sin not & if ye do walk uprightly before me & sin not my grace is sufficient for you that ye shall be lifted up at the last day Behold I am Jesus Christ the Son of the liveing God I am the same which came unto my own & my own received me not I am the light which shineth in darkness & the darkness comprehendeth it not these words are not of men nor of man but of me Now remember the words of him who is the first & the last the light & the life of the world And I Jesus Christ your Lord & your God & your Redeemer by the power of my Spirit hath spoken it Amen—— And now if I have not authority to write these things judge ye behold ye shall know that I have authority when you & I shall be brought to stand before the j[u]dgement seat of Christ Now may [the grace] of God the Father & our Lord Jesus Christ be & abide with you all & fi[na]lly save you Eternally in his Kingdom through the Infinite atonement which is in Jesus Christ Amen—— Behold I am Oliver I am an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God the Father & the Lord Jesus Christ Behold I have written the things which he hath commanded me for behold his word was unto me as a burning fire shut up in my bones & I was weary with forbearing & I could forbear no longer Amen——
Written in the yea[r] of our Lord & Saviour 1829—— A true copy of the articles of the Church of Christ &c
I find this document that speaks the words of Christ simply incredible and worth considering putting in our scriptures, specifically as (at least part of) a governing principles document. Of course, there are reasonable concerns that could be brought up when considering such a course of action.
One concern is that these days we find ourselves ordaining men to the priesthood without a specific office while Oliver’s revelation calls for the ordination of priests and teachers. Of course, Moroni prescribed the very same ordinations as he finished his record. And Moroni and Oliver both wrote that the ordinations should be done “according to the gifts and callings of God unto men” and “by the power of the Holy Ghost”, which are things that we might have limited or no experience doing. There is obviously something very important about these ordinations that we don’t understand but that we probably need to understand. Remembering the revelation given to Oliver can help us do that.
Another concern is the idea that the revelation to Oliver may not satisfy the requirement given to us to write our own statement of principles. But allow me to ask you this: In composing a statement of principles, is it appropriate to include scriptural quotations, thus including something we did not write ourselves? How much scripture is too much scripture for a statement of principles? 50%? 75% 100%? Did Nephi not write and adapt the words of Isaiah for his specific needs? Did Nephi fulfill the requirement the Lord gave him? Can we not write and adapt the words of Oliver for our specific needs? For example, we could adapt the words by adding something about fellowships or the requirement to be sustained by seven women. I don’t see why we can’t use the Lord’s revelation to Oliver and also fulfill the requirement the Lord has given us to write our own statement of principles.
Yet another concern is that this revelation given to Oliver was seemingly discarded as it never made it into any version of scriptures. Interestingly, editors marked up Oliver’s revelation as if to include it in the Book of Commandments, though it was not included in the end. It’s technically possible that it didn’t make it into the scriptures because part of it got lost. We only have the complete text today because Symonds Rider (who left the Church in 1831) had a copy of it and his descendant donated it to the LDS Church in the 1960s. The only other known copy of the revelation is in Revelation Book 1, but significant portions are missing due to missing pages and it is not known when those pages were lost. You could look at it this way: It seems that Oliver’s revelation was specifically preserved away from the LDS Church so that it could not be corrupted by that institution. And I might add that the revelation was preserved by the family of someone who is specifically known for desiring complete accuracy.
Even if the Church and maybe Oliver himself actually retained a full copy of the Articles of the Church of Christ and purposefully chose to ignore what had been given, preferring other things instead, does that excuse us for ignoring the revelation as well? They are the words of Christ. Oliver, one who has stood in the presence of the Lord, gave us his testimony that he had authority from Christ to write these things. Does anyone have a superior claim to Oliver’s? Can recognizing Oliver’s authority help us to eliminate contention among ourselves and thus bring unity on the assignment we have received? Also, what will happen when we are “brought to stand before the judgement seat of Christ” and we showed by our actions that we didn’t believe that Oliver had authority to write these things? These are sobering questions, but we need not operate solely on fear of displeasing the Lord. There are many reasons to be excited about including the Articles of the Church of Christ as at least part of our statement of principles.
The revelation’s words about priests and teachers offer an extraordinary opportunity. Obviously priests and teachers were offices in previous dispensations of the gospel. This could be an opportunity to ask ourselves: What does it mean to be a priest or teacher? How do we get called “according to the gifts and callings of God unto men” and “by the power of the Holy Ghost”? The document could help us ask other questions relevant to the Book of Mormon: How do we know when one is partaking of the sacrament unworthily and what exactly is to be done about that? What is "His Church"? What does it mean to take upon ourselves the name of Christ? The Articles of the Church of Christ seem to be focusing in on parts of the Book of Mormon that we need to take very seriously.
Another exciting thing about the Articles of the Church of Christ is that they provide no opportunity for mischief like what happened with other words of wisdom we have been given. All the main points are taken straight from the Book of Mormon, a document that we already accept. The Articles of the Church of Christ simply direct us to the main points about coming unto Christ. What a marvelous thing to be able to show new converts a restatement of the Lord’s doctrine by the Lord Himself!
Going in another direction, it’s incredible to consider that the Articles of the Church of Christ can potentially tie generations together. In a way, remembering that revelation is one more important thing we can do to turn our hearts to our fathers and help us remember the promises made to our fathers. The fathers who had promises given to them do not only consist of people like Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. The saints who lived in Joseph’s day are also our fathers and they had promises made to them. While we are working to remove the condemnation brought on by earlier generations, can we also recognize the promises and assignments they received? Are their assignments null and void or do older commissions from the Lord yet remain in effect? Do we need to respect what our fathers did and maybe even what they are currently doing? I suspect that earlier generations of saints are still very much relevant. The work ahead of us may require a great deal of cooperation between us and them, at least in some sense.
Happily, the Articles of the Church of Christ are filled with the ideals of Zion. In that revelation, the Lord reminds us multiple times to cast none from among us. He encourages us to gather oft and partake of the sacrament together. He asks us to share with each other our progress towards eternal life. He commands us to get rid of contentions among us. And He pleads with us to take His name upon us. We were recently chastised as a people for not being more Christlike. Oliver’s revelation reminds us of what we need to do and become in order to be the Lord’s people.
One interesting fact about the Articles of the Church of Christ is that it was the first time that the Church’s name in this dispensation was written down. The Articles say that the Church should be called “The Church of Christ”. David Whitmer wrote, “In June, 1829, the Lord gave us the name by which we must call the church, being the same as He gave the Nephites. We obeyed His commandment, and called it The Church of Christ until 1834.” (Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, 73.) Interestingly, Oliver was commanded to build up the Church in a revelation that was addressed to both Oliver and David. But David specifically did not get the assignment to write the Articles of the Church of Christ. Apparently David, though a servant, was forbidden from participating in that work.
In all of the Lord’s revelations concerning specific latter-day servants, the amount of endorsements from the Lord concerning Oliver Cowdery is second only to Joseph Smith. Let’s review some of those endorsements:
And now, behold, I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift, which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. Verily, verily, I say unto you, if they reject my words, and this part of my gospel and ministry, blessed are ye, for they can do no more unto you than unto me. And even if they do unto you even as they have done unto me, blessed are ye, for you shall dwell with me in glory. But if they reject not my words, which shall be established by the testimony which shall be given, blessed are they, and then shall ye have joy in the fruit of your labors. (D&C 6:28-31)
Wherefore it behooveth me that [Joseph] should be ordained by you, Oliver Cowdery mine apostle; This being an ordinance unto you, that you are an elder under his hand, he being the first unto you, that you might be an elder unto this church of Christ, bearing my name— And the first preacher of this church unto the church, and before the world, yea, before the Gentiles; yea, and thus saith the Lord God, lo, lo! to the Jews also. Amen. (D&C 21:10-12)
Make known thy calling unto the church, and also before the world, and thy heart shall be opened to preach the truth from henceforth and forever. Amen. (D&C 23:2)
And thy brother Oliver shall continue in bearing my name before the world, and also to the church. And he shall not suppose that he can say enough in my cause; and lo, I am with him to the end. In me he shall have glory, and not of himself, whether in weakness or in strength, whether in bonds or free; And at all times, and in all places, he shall open his mouth and declare my gospel as with the voice of a trump, both day and night. And I will give unto him strength such as is not known among men. (D&C 24:10-12)
Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given…And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto [Joseph], even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church. And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it. But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom…And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment. (D&C 28:1-8)
The Lord vouched for Oliver. Perhaps we should as well.
I had not considered this document before very recently. I wish I had and had been able to bring it up much earlier. But that’s just how things go sometimes. Personally, I want to remember the words of the Lord and ensure that Oliver is indeed “the first preacher of this church unto the church, and before the world, yea, before the Gentiles; yea, and thus saith the Lord God, lo, lo! to the Jews also.” If we write and adapt Oliver’s revelation for use in the governing principles, then the Lord’s word would be fulfilled as the Gentiles and the Jews would read the words recorded by Oliver as they investigate this movement and its scriptures. As far as how my suggestion is taken, I have no control over that. If the fellowships want to do something about it, they would probably have to act pretty quickly and in some creative way, since there’s not a whole lot of time left (I believe the governing principles committee is meeting on August 5th). Like I said earlier, I have no expectations. Whatever happens will happen and I intend to love, care for, and unite with all who seek the Lord. If the Lord intends to have Oliver’s revelation in His scriptures, He will make it happen by providing a way.
[Note: Since publishing this post, the author has repented and has adopted a different view. Please see Part II.]
[Note: Since publishing this post, the author has repented and has adopted a different view. Please see Part II.]