Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, RLDS, RLDS Church, Reorganized Church, Reorganization

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     An emphasis on higher education, which began during the presidency of Fred M. Smith, gained momentum during Israel A. Smith's administration.  It took hold on the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints during the 1960s.   The church enacted educational requirements for its new appointees, eventually requiring advanced course work in religious curriculums for employment.
     Many church members favored the development.  America in general was becoming better educated.  Church members expected their ministers to be competent, especially the paid ministry.  The development came with a price.
     One significant distinctive of the Reorganization was the prevalent manifestations of spiritual gifts among the membership.  The tension between Fred M. Smith and both the Twelve and Bishopric, which culminated in the 1925 decision on “supreme directional control” and the resulting Protest Movement, significantly impacted those spiritual manifestations.  Afterwards, a number of them denounced the decision and warned against the growing preference of some to “return to the world for their equipment.”  Church leaders began a campaign to control those gifts.  They advocated the need to alert the presiding administrator, such as pastor or district president, before exercising a spiritual manifestation.  In time, church members began to believe that spiritual manifestations should be under the control of church administrators.  Some even thought them valid only if they came through the pastor, district president, or other church leader.  Slowly spiritual manifestations dwindled in frequency, until they rarely, if ever, characterized normal church services.
            The decline of spiritual manifestations and the emphasis on higher education combined to transform the atmosphere surrounding church leaders.  While respect for their academic knowledge and scholarly competence grew among most members, suspicions about their scriptural insight and spiritual receptiveness increased among a significant portion of the church.  That suspicion set the stage for a period of turmoil and eventual fragmentation that overtook the Reorganized Church.
            David Blair, the grandson of President W. W. Blair, like so many members at the time, discerned the shift in outlook and direction. He wrote his boyhood friend Clifford Cole in the early 1960s and asked him to use his position to help return to the church to its more traditional and, presumably, more spiritual foundations.  Brother Cole refused and wrote back saying that he and others would continue to reshape the church to such an extent that Brother Blair would not recognize it in the future.
            The reshaping of the church multiplied discontent throughout the membership.  The First Presidency had challenged the entire church in 1964 to re-think its theology and basic teachings.  New books advocating a more academic view were published.  Almost every branch of the church began debating the church’s basic beliefs.  The discussion and debates polarized the membership instead of unifying it.  More progressive elements continued to de-mythologize the church’s beliefs.  The traditional segment more tenaciously clung to the mystical view so prevalent in the past.  When the church agreed at the 1984 World Conference to ordain women to priesthood offices, the tenuous tie between the more progressive and more traditional segments of the church was broken.  The church fragmented.
            No better statistic can show the results of that division.  According to the Presiding Bishop’s report at the 1974 World Conference, about 86,000 members contributed to the World Church in 1972.  By 2008, the number of member contributors had dropped to 22,000, a loss of 64,000 supportive members.  Meanwhile, the number of members worshipping in church fellowships not authorized by the present Community of Christ leaders cannot be more than 12,000.  That leaves 44,000 active members, or half the church of yesteryear, unaccounted for.
            The division and decline of the Reorganized Church is similar to many other Protestant denominations.  The general revision and demythologizing has occurred in all those sects, increasing doubt, decreasing devotion and overall secularizing the general population.  A number lost interest in institutional religion altogether, some because of the politics and some because of disbelief.  Meanwhile, significant numbers left their childhood denominations to join more traditional or scriptural-based churches.
            The fragmentation of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints raises the question:  which of the fragments, if any, presents the Savior’s church in the same way that the Reorganized Church has in the past.  Fortunately Joseph III, who gathered and molded the fragments of the original church into the Reorganization, gave a plain answer.  When asked where the church was between the disorganization of the original church and its Reorganization, Joseph III answered, “It was with the remnant scattered abroad, who remained true to the principles first given as the gospel of Christ; and with any body of such remnant, numbering six or more, under the pastoral charge of an elder, priest, teacher, or deacon” (Church History, vol 5, p 346).  Elsewhere, he wrote, “It is a principle well known in civil law, and ought to be in ecclesiastical circles, that whenever a church is founded, its principles of faith formulated, its traditions fulminated from the forum and pulpit those declarations become the constitution of its corporate and legal existence.  If in the history of any church, anything out of harmony with, or antagonistic to that constitution is introduced, or a change is sought to be made in the creed and government, which is opposed and resisted, or denied by any of the members of the church, that portion of the membership that remains in adherence to the faith as it was before the change was attempted or made, is the church.  Nor does it make any difference in law how few this adhering portion may be, or how numerous the changing membership, the church is that part of the members remaining true to the original tenets” (Rejection of the Church, p 6).
            A number of branches, some within the Community of Christ and some organized separate from the Community of Christ, are faithful branches of the Reorganized Church, at least according to Joseph Smith III’s criteria.  Some of those branches are working together under the law of the Reorganized Church and in harmony with its great commission to teach the restored gospel throughout the world.  It is an exceptional way for church members to unite in spreading the angel message to the world.  As a result, the Holy Spirit has attended its activities and blessed its deliberations with insight and revelations.  The old camaraderie and fellowship has returned.  We invite you to gather with the faithful saints dedicated to extending the light of the gospel in an ever darkening world.

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