Thoughts on Lesson Nine

The [Whitmer] family lived in a log house on their homestead which was located three miles south and one mile west of the village of Waterloo (the village being first identified by that name in 1816). On 6 April 1830, the "Church of Christ" was organized in that Whitmer farm home.

Reflecting on this singular event, Orson Pratt eulogized the log house from which the foundations of Mormonism sprang: "That house will, no doubt, be celebrated for ages to come as the one chosen by the Lord in which to make known the first elements of the organization of His Kingdom in the latter days." In recognition of those "first elements of organization" it would be useful to say something of the physical features of the original log house where this highly significant event took place.

In October 1830, just following his baptism on 19 September 1830, Orson Pratt journeyed from his home in Cannan, New York, to Fayette where he met the Prophet Joseph Smith at the Whitmer farm. Of this experience Orson affirmed:

I well recollect when I was but a boy of nineteen visiting the place where this Church was organized, and visiting the Prophet Joseph, who resided at that time in Fayette, Seneca County, New York, at the house where the Church was organized.
Whether or not Orson was projecting the actual dimensions of a room in the Whitmer cabin he also observed, "I presume that all who belonged to the Church at that time might occupy a small room about the size of fifteen feet by twenty." Sidney Rigdon, who arrived in Seneca County on 11 December 1830 and attended the third general conference of the Church held at the Whitmer farm on 2 January 1831, wrote, "I recollect in the year 1830, I met the whole church of Christ in a little old log house about 20 feet square, near Waterloo, N.Y." Sidney's nineteenth century approximations of the cabin's outside dimensions were further defined by a twentieth century discovery of the actual foundation. William L. Powell, a Latter-day Saint tenant at the Whitmer farm from 1946- 1952, discovered the laid-rock foundation of the old home during his farming operations. Powell reported:
After a while we had uncovered the shape of a foundation on the south side [of the barn]. And by the end of the next year's hay season we had it pretty well uncovered, the whole foundation. So my son and I completed uncovering it, and we took the measurements. It was 20 feet wide and 30 feet long. It was laid, small, rocks. Very small rocks most of them and they were layed in a trench about a foot wide. Just about the width of a log. Maybe they were just a little more than a foot wide. They were only about 6 inches deep, we determined. Just deep enough to set them under the ground.
These exact measurements, 20' x 30', were used in reconstructing the existing cabin at the Whitmer farm, which was dedicated by President Spencer W. Kimball on 6 April 1980, marking the 150th anniversary of the organization of the Church.

Orson Pratt attended the third conference of the Church in the Whitmer dwelling on 2 January 1831. He reported that "In one small room of a log-house, nearly all the Latter-day Saints (east of Ohio) were collected together." After conversation with David Whitmer, Edward Stevenson indicated that on the day of organization, 6 April 1830, "David's father's 2 rooms were filled with members," indicating a two-room partitioning on the ground floor, or what would have been termed in that day a double log house. One of the two rooms identified by David was the living room; the other would have been a bedroom or chamber on the ground level. Lucy Mack Smith speaks of being seated in the Whitmer bedroom, in the latter part of June 1829, with Father and Mother Whitmer at the time her son Joseph, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris returned to the house after having witnessed Moroni and the golden plates.

Apparently the work of translation of the Book of Mormon was conducted both upstairs and also downstairs in the living room area. David Whitmer reported: "in order to give privacy to the proceeding, a blanket, which served as a portiere, was stretched across the family living room to shelter the translators and the plates from the eyes of any who might call at the house while the work was in progress.

In June 1829, ten months before the actual event occurred, the Lord gave to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer an outline or agenda for a future organizational meeting of the Church. Eager to obtain the necessary authority to exercise the Melchizedek Priesthood, which had been conferred earlier on Joseph and Oliver sometime during May-June 1829, these men gathered in the chamber (or bedroom) of the Whitmer home. Joseph reported:

We had not long been engaged in solemn and fervent prayer, when the word of the Lord came unto us in the chamber, commanding us that I should ordain Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ; and that he also should ordain me to the office; and then to ordain others, as it should be made known unto us from time to time. We were, however, commanded to defer this our ordination until such times as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together, when we must have their sanction to our thus proceeding to ordain each other, and have them decide by vote whether they were willing to accept us as spiritual teachers or not; when also we were commanded to bless bread and break it with them, and to take wine, bless it, and drink it with them; afterward proceed to ordain such men as the Spirit should dictate, and ordain them; and then attend to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, upon all those whom we had previously baptized, doing all things in the name of the Lord.
This agenda was rather strictly adhered to during organizational proceedings one year later. By April 1830, Joseph Smith reported having received the contents of D&C Section 20, prescribing the specific day of organization. In a preface to this communication he said: "We obtained of him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which...we should proceed to organize the Church." The date designated by the Lord was "the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April [1830].

News of the organizational meeting was conveyed to the interested parties. Joseph remarked: "We...made known to our brethren that we had received a commandment to organize the Church; and accordingly we met together for that purpose, at the house of Mr. Peter Whitmer, Sr." David Whitmer estimated the number of individuals who were present from the respective areas. He specified "about 20 from Colesville, 15 from Manchester Church and about 20 from around about Father Whitmers. About 50 members and the 6 Elders were present."

Important elements of what became known as the "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ" (D&C 20 ), were further utilized as a guide by the founders on the day of organization. These constituted certain basic doctrines, ordinances, assigned duties of members and bearers of the priesthood, coupled with the baptismal and sacrament prayers. The frequency of conference sessions and requirements for the maintenance of membership records were also given in brief. D&C 20 also speaks of the newly evolving "Church of Christ" as being "regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country," (D&C 20:1 ). David Whitmer affirmed that at that meeting the legal requirements of incorporating their religious society were a very practical consideration:

The reason why we met on that day was this; the world had been telling us that we were not a regularly organized church, and we had no right to officiate in the ordinance of marriage, hold church property, etc., and that we should organize according to the laws of the land. On this account we met at my father's house in Fayette, N.Y., on April 6, 1830, to attend to this matter of organizing according to the laws of the land.
David further commented, "On the 6th of April, 1830, the church was called together and the elders acknowledged according to the laws of New York." Those "laws" David Whitmer was referring to were "An Act to provide for the Incorporation of Religious Societies," passed by the New York State Legislature on 5 April 1813. The most detailed of the several accounts relating the events of that day is that of Joseph Smith, Jr. He outlined the agenda as follows:
Having opened the meeting by solemn prayer to our Heavenly Father, we proceeded, according to previous commandment, to call on our brethren to know whether they accepted us as their teachers in the things of the Kingdom of God, and whether they were satisfied that we should proceed and be organized as a Church according to said commandment which we had received. To these several propositions they consented by unanimous vote [If the legalities of New York law were strictly observed this vote may have been by the "male persons of full age" who were present]. I then laid my hands upon Oliver Cowdery and ordained him an Elder of the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [this title is obviously inserted as the result of the later name change in 1838, (D&C 115 )]; after which, he ordained me also to the office of an Elder of said Church. We then took bread, blessed it, and brake it with them; also wine, blessed it, and drank it with them. We then laid our hands on each individual member of the Church present, that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ. The Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very great degree some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord, and rejoiced exceedingly. Whilst yet together, I received the following commandment: [D&C 21 is recorded in full.
Interrupting the Prophet's sequential narration of the events of that day, let's examine for a moment some of the salient content found in D&C 21. In that revelation the Lord directed that a record or regular history of the Church should be maintained (D&C 21:1 ). Oliver was initially accorded that responsibility, but later replaced in that capacity by John Whitmer on 8 March 1831 (D&C 47:1 ). In the record which was to be kept, Joseph was to be called a "seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ, Being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof, and to build it up unto the most holy faith" (D&C 21:1-2 ). Oliver was then directed to ordain Joseph to the calling thus designated by the Lord (D&C 21:10 ). Years later, William E. McLellin interviewed Oliver Cowdery about some of the specifics of that day. William said of that experience, "I had a long talk with Oliver Cowdery in Elkhorn, Wis., in 1847. I asked him to what did you ordain J. Smith on the 6th of April 1830? Said he, `I ordained him Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator just as the revelation says.'"

Continuing his explanation of occurrences on 6 April, the Prophet said: We now proceeded to call out and ordain some others of the brethren to different offices of the Priesthood, according as the Spirit manifested unto us: and after a happy time spent in witnessing and feeling for ourselves the powers and blessings of the Holy Ghost, through the grace of God bestowed upon us, we dismissed with the pleasing knowledge that we were now individually members of, and acknowledged of God, "The Church of Jesus Christ," organized in accordance with commandments and revelations given by Him to ourselves in these last days, as well as according to the order of the Church as recorded in the New Testament. Several persons who had attended the above meeting, became convinced of the truth and came forward shortly after, and were received into the Church; among the rest, my own father and mother were baptized, to my great joy and consolation; and about the same time, Martin Harris and Orrin Porter Rockwell. David Whitmer declared that the formative Church bore the name of the Church of Christ, saying: "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." This title was used extensively in The Evening and the Morning Star and is corroborated in other documents of the period.

Before the day of organization, many individuals had been baptized for the remission of their sins under the auspices of the Aaronic Priesthood. Estimates vary from thirty to a little over seventy. These people had not been confirmed into the Church, nor had they yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost, a Melchizedek Priesthood function. Many of those present on 6 April were in this category and were eager to receive the desired ordinances. Others experienced baptism for the first time on that date. Lucy Mack Smith specifies that Joseph Smith, Sr., and Martin Harris were baptized during the morning. Joseph Knight, Sr., remembered that particular sequence as happening in the evening: "Old Mr. Smith and Martin Harris Come forrod [forward] to Be[Baptise[d] for the first. They found a place in a lot a small Stream ran thro and they ware Baptized in the Evening Because of persecution." Joseph Knight, Sr., further commented:

Joseph [the Prophet] was fild with the Spirrit to a grate Degree to see his Father and Mr Harris that he had Bin with so much he Bast [burst?] out with greaf and Joy and seamed as tho the world could not hold him. He went out into the Lot and appeared to want to git out of site of every Body and would sob and Crie and seamed to Be so full that he could not live. Oliver and I went after him and Came to him and after a while he came in. But he was the most wrot upon that I ever saw any man. But his joy seemed to Be full. I think he saw the grate work he had Begun and was Desirus to Carry it out.
Others known to have gone down into the waters of baptism that same day were Lucy Mack Smith and Orrin Porter Rockwell.

Sidney Rigdon reflected:

I met the whole church of Christ in a little old log house about 20 feet square, near Waterloo, N.Y. and we began to talk about the kingdom of God as if we had the world at our command; we talked with great confidence, and talked big things, although we were not many people, we had big feelings...we were as big then, as we shall ever be; we began to talk like men in authority and power...we saw by vision, the church of God, a thousand times larger.... Many things were taught, believed and preached, then, which have since come to pass... if we had talked in public, we should have been ridiculed more than we were, the world being entirely ignorant of the testimony of the prophets and without knowledge of what God was about to do.
The events which transpired on 6 April 1830 in western New York have greatly impressed the religious thinking and behavior of millions. Inaugurated under the hands of the Lord, the gospel which was restored in "a little old log house" belonging to Peter Whitmer, Sr., has now become a worldwide institution of vastly expanded dimensions. Saints across the earth rejoice as one and find exhilaration in the timeless promise of the Savior, "Whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven." (D&C 10:55 .)

Comments and feedback can be sent to