April 6, 1830: The Day the Church Was Organized

The paintings and drawings for this feature, “April 6, 1830: The Day the Church Was Organized,“ are by Latter-day Saint artist William Whitaker of the Art Department at Brigham Young University, and Dr. Richard Lloyd Anderson, professor of history and religion at Brigham Young University and a frequent contributor to the Improvement Era, served as consultant for the project.

It was the sixth day of April in the year of our Lord 1830.

The place was a log farm home belonging to Peter Whitmer, Sr., in Fayette, Seneca County, New York.

The event: the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ in this dispensation.

The organizing of just any church may or may not be an important event, for many dozens of churches have made their appearance in the United States over the last century and a half, but the reestablishment and formal organization of God’s true church upon the earth is a happening of such vital significance and vast meaning that it should excite the interest of every human being in this day and time.

Almost anyone who has a desire can organize a church, and if he fills the requirements, he could have the church legally recognized. But it is one thing to have a church recognized by the laws of the land and something else to have it recognized by God as well. And if it is to be sanctioned and sanctified by God, it must be his church, organized under his direction.

Amos, the prophet of old, said: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7.) And the apostle Paul, writing to the Hebrews, declared: “… no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Heb. 5:4.)

The Lord had revealed his will to a young prophet, and he had called him as he did Aaron and other prophets down through the history of the world. This young prophet, under the direction of the Lord, presided over and conducted the events of that day in April 1830. His name was Joseph Smith, Jr. He was but twenty-four years of age. For ten years previous the Lord had been preparing him for the role he was now fulfilling.

As a boy of fourteen, Joseph, confused as to which church he should join, earnestly sought guidance through prayer, and God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision, telling him to join none of the churches, “for they were all wrong; … that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; … that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’” (JS—H 1:19.)

Word that the Lord had spoken to a fourteen-year-old boy was received with much excitement, but little tolerance, by the people of western New York. Small wonder. Such a thing was unprecedented. God had not revealed himself to the world for many generations; yea, centuries. It was popularly believed that the heavens were closed.

Yet those who knew the young man well were impressed. Joseph was honest and sincere, devout and intelligent. He had been honestly seeking the true church of God. The large number of so-called Christian sects and the extreme diversity of their teachings demonstrated the confusion that existed in the religious world. Where was the truth? Was it illogical to think that a loving Father who had guided his children through the dispensations would again speak to man?

Four years passed, and then young Joseph was visited by another heavenly messenger, who called himself Moroni and who told him that God had an important work for him to do. Deposited in a nearby hill were some gold plates that contained the fullness of the everlasting gospel. His was to be the glorious privilege of translating the characters from the plates and being the instrument in God’s hands in restoring the gospel and reorganizing the true church.

Going to the nearby hill, as instructed by Moroni, Joseph found the plates in a stone box, protected from the elements of centuries by a rounded stone lid that covered them.

While attempting to remove the treasure, Joseph was informed that the time had not yet come for him to take the plates but that he must return each year for four years to receive instructions, and thereby he was taught “how and in what manner his [God’s] kingdom was to be conducted in the last days.” (JS—H 1:53–54.)

At length Joseph received the plates, and on April 7, 1829, work was started in earnest on the translation of the writing on the plates, with a young schoolteacher named Oliver Cowdery acting as scribe. Less than three months later the monumental task of translation was complete, and the first edition of the publication called the Book of Mormon came from the press in the early spring of 1830.

During the course of translation, whenever a question arose, the two young men would inquire of the Lord and thereby receive much guidance and information. Many passages, for example, declared that baptism was essential to salvation. This they also knew from reading the Bible; yet, neither had been baptized. When they asked of the Lord, a messenger from heaven, who said his name was John—called John the Baptist—laid his hands on their heads and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them and commanded them to baptize each other.

Additional enlightenment and authority, including the Melchizedek Priesthood, were received as needed for the progress of the work.

Early in April 1830 the young prophet received the revelation that has become section 20 of the book called the Doctrine and Covenants. It is often referred to as a “revelation on Church organization and government.” Of this, the Prophet Joseph wrote: “We obtained of him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to his will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once more here upon the earth.”

The first verse of the revelation reads: “The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.” [D&C 20:1]

One cannot study this revelation without being tremendously impressed with the knowledge and understanding the Lord of heaven poured out upon his servant concerning the matters vital to the salvation of man and the reestablishing of the kingdom of God upon the earth. In part, at least, it seemed to be a reaffirmation and reemphasis of knowledge and guidance that the Lord had previously given young Joseph.

Among the precious truths and instructions received in this revelation were the following:

1. God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ do exist. God is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, the framer of heaven and earth and all things that are in them.

2. Man is made in the image and likeness of God.

3. The living and true God is the only being man should worship.

4. The Holy Ghost bears record of the Father and the Son.

5. Man became sensuous and devilish by transgressing the laws of God.

6. God truly loves his children.

7. God gave his Only Begotten Son so “as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved.” (D&C 20:25.)

8. God established for his children the principle of repentance for the remission of their sins.

9. After they have truly repented of their sins, all men should be baptized. (The prayer to be used in baptizing is given.)

10. A child must reach “the years of accountability before God” and be capable of repentance before he is baptized.

11. Those who have been baptized should be confirmed members of the Church by the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost by those who have authority.

12. A person must be properly called and ordained by one having authority to officiate in the ordinances of the Church.

13. God truly does communicate with his prophets and sends messengers to administer to them.

14. The Book of Mormon was revealed and translated by divine power.

15. The Book of Mormon contains a record of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

16. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon proved to the world “that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in the generations of old; Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever.” (D&C 20:11–12.)

17. All those who believe and have faith and work righteousness will gain eternal life.

18. The practice of common consent is to be followed in the Church.

19. Duties of elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the Church are outlined.

20. The importance of the sacrament in remembrance of the Lord Jesus is stressed.

21. The manner in which the sacrament should be administered and the prayers to be used are given.

Almost a year before, in June 1829, the Lord had outlined to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the procedures to be followed in organizing the Church, but he instructed them to wait for the proper time. Joseph Smith’s History of the Church reads: “… for 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 should also ordain me to the same office; and then to ordain others, as it should be made known unto us from time to time. We were, however, commanded to defer our ordination until such time 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 … 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 each other according to commandment; then call out 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.” (DHC 1:60–61.)

The appointed hour finally arrived. At the meeting were four other men, in addition to Joseph and Oliver, who had been selected to become incorporators of the Church, “agreeable to the laws of our country.” (D&C 20:1.) They are listed in the History of the Church as Hyrum and Samuel H. Smith, brothers of Joseph, and David and Peter Whitmer, Jr., sons of the man who had opened his home for the organization meeting. All had previously been baptized.

In addition, there were a “few” friends who had been invited to attend, perhaps not more than thirty altogether. Among these were the Prophet’s father, Joseph Smith, Sr., and his beloved mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Both had believed his story and had encouraged him in the work from the beginning.

No original minutes are available of the proceedings of the day, and there is perhaps a question about the exact order in which some of the events occurred, but there is agreement on what transpired.

We picture the young prophet calling the meeting to order, outlining the purposes for it, and inviting those assembled to join in solemn prayer to our Heavenly Father, thanking him that he had seen fit to reestablish his church upon the earth and asking his blessings upon those assembled and the events of the day. One of the first orders of business, bringing into play the principle of common consent, was to ask those participating if they desired to have the church organized. To this they consented by unanimous vote. They were asked if they could sustain Joseph Smith, Jr., and Oliver Cowdery as the presiding officers of the Church. To this they also responded by unanimous vote. Joseph then proceeded to ordain Oliver an elder in the Church, and Oliver in turn ordained Joseph to that office. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered to those who had previously been baptized. As far as can be determined, this was the first time this holy ordinance had been performed by the Lord’s chosen servants in this dispensation.

Sometime during the day baptisms were held. These ordinances may have been performed in nearby Seneca Lake, although this is not certain. The record states that “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.” (DHC 1:78.) The Prophet also wrote: “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. …” (DHC 1:79.)

Of this the mother of the Prophet writes: “… Joseph stood upon the shore, and taking his father by the hand, he exclaimed, with tears of joy, ‘Praise to my God! that I have lived to see my own father baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ!’” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958], p. 168.)

Following the confirmations, “the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very great degree—some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord, and rejoiced exceedingly.” (DHC 1:78.)

Another impressive event of the day was the receiving of a revelation by the Prophet Joseph Smith, which has become the twenty-first section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In this revelation the Lord manifested his acceptance of the Church and his recognition of those who were called to be its presiding officers.

The revelation reads: “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou [Joseph Smith] shalt 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.

“Which church was organized and established in the year of your Lord eighteen hundred and thirty, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.

“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

“For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.

“For thus saith the Lord God: Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good, and his diligence I know, and his prayers I have heard.

“Yea, his weeping for Zion I have seen, and I will cause that he shall mourn for her no longer; for his days of rejoicing are come unto the remission of his sins, and the manifestations of my blessings upon his works.

“For, behold, I will bless all those who labor in my vineyard with a mighty blessing, and they shall believe on his words, which are given him through me by the Comforter, which manifesteth that Jesus was crucified by sinful men for the sins of the world, yea, for the remission of sins unto the contrite heart.

“Wherefore it behooveth me that he 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.)

The Prophet further records: “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.” (DHC 1:79.)

More than 140 years have passed since that April day in 1830. The Church, which began so humbly with six members, has grown until it now has a membership of more than three million. The faithful of the Church bear testimony of the divinity of the work and agree with that which was written of Joseph Smith soon after his martyrdom on June 17, 1844:

“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. …”(D&C 135:3.)

[illustrations] Art by William Whitaker

[illustration] Before beginning the important events of the day, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery meet in the upstairs room of the Peter Whitmer farm home, where the Book of Mormon was translated.

[illustration] Joseph Smith, Sr., arrives at the Whitmer home to participate in the events of the day. The Prophet’s father was the first person to hear and believe the story of the appearance of the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove.

[illustration] Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and Jerusha, wife of the Prophet’s brother Hyrum, arrive for the meetings.

[illustration] David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was one of the six incorporators of the Church of Jesus Christ in this dispensation.

[illustration] Joseph Smith, twenty-four years of age, presides over the organization proceedings. At his side is Oliver Cowdery, who acted as his scribe during the translation of the plates.

[illustration] The sacred meeting is opened by solemn prayer. In attendance are the six men who are to formally organize the Church and a number of specially invited guests—perhaps not more than thirty in all.

[illustration] Establishing the principle of common consent in the Church, participants in the organization unanimously vote by the uplifted hand to organize the Church and to sustain Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as presiding officers.

[illustration] Joseph Smith ordains Oliver Cowdery to be an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ. Following this, Oliver ordains Joseph to the same office.

[illustration] The sacrament of the Lord’s supper is administered to members of the Church. Prayers are used that were received by revelation.

[illustration] Even though Joseph and Oliver and others had previously been baptized, they repeat this ordinance, signifying their entry into the Church of Christ, which has just been organized.

[illustrations] Several people who attended the meeting “came forward shortly after and were received into the Church.” These paintings portray the wife and mother of the Prophet preparing to be baptized.

[illustration] Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery lay their hands upon the head of the Prophet’s father to confirm him a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and to bestow upon him the gift of the Holy Ghost.

[illustration] Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, mortgaged part of his farm for $3,000 to furnish the money for the printing of the first edition of the Book of Mormon.

[illustration] Peter Whitmer, Sr., who befriended the young Prophet Joseph Smith, provided the room in which the Book of Mormon was translated, and opened his home for the organizing of the Church.

[illustration] Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet, bears her testimony.

[illustration] Joseph and Oliver ordain Peter Whitmer. A number of the brethren were ordained to “different offices of the priesthood accordingly as the spirit manifested. …”

[illustration] The Prophet Joseph Smith, perhaps in the presence of the five other young men who are participating in the organization, receives a revelation from the Lord, which becomes the twentieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In it the Lord manifests recognition of the presiding officers.

Some eight months ago Brother Whitaker accepted the assignment to do these illustrations and was given a free hand to interpret the events pictured. He spent most of the summer of 1970 on the project, and some of the paintings he reportedly redid four or five times. The use of various techniques and media adds greatly to the interest of the illustrations. As far as we are aware, this is the most comprehensive treatment of this momentous day that has been attempted up to this time.