Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Founder: Joseph Smith III, son of founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith Jr.
Date of Birth and Death: 1832-1914
Year Group was Founded: 1860
Sacred or Revered Texts: The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants
Group Size: RLDS sources list their group size as 250,000 members worldwide, down from 350,000 a decade ago ( Salt Lake Tribune June 29, 1996).
Joseph Smith Jr. claimed to receive revelation from God instructing him how to restore to the earth the same church that Christ founded. Smith thus became founder, president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church). In June, 1844, Smith was murdered by a mob in Carthage, Illinois. In the ensuing turmoil, the majority of Mormons accepted Brigham Young as the next prophet of the church. A few, however, thought that Smith designated his 12 year-old son Joseph Smith III as his successor. This group did not follow the majority of Mormons to Utah, and in 1860, when Joseph Smith III had matured, this group founded the RLDS Church in Illinois with Smith as prophet. The church moved its headquarters to Independence, Missouri in 1920 due to a 19th-century Joseph Smith Jr. statement designating the city as Zion.
God is the loving creator, Jesus Christ was the expression of God in the flesh, and the Holy Ghost is the presence of God in the world. One needs to accept Christ to achieve salvation and be baptized by immersion, though it is not necessary to be baptized specifically within the RLDS Church. The Bible is supplemented as holy scripture by The Book of Mormon and The Doctrine and Covenants, two books which contain additional information about Jesus Christ. Continuing revelation from God for the church can be received by the prophet — currently W. Grant McMurray.
Main differences between RLDS and LDS beliefs
The RLDS concept of God is much more in line with mainstream Christianity. RLDS subscribe to the more classic view that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one being rather than the Mormon belief that they are three separate entities. The RLDS Church also claims that all ordinances that occur within LDS temples are unnecessary: i.e., there is no need for worthy members to participate in temple rituals to receive salvation, there is no need to be baptized by proxy for the dead so that the dead can receive salvation, and there is no need for families members to be “sealed” to continue the familial bonds in the afterlife. Next, the RLDS Church has allowed women to hold its priesthood since 1984. Finally, RLDS emphasize that their church never advocated polygamy.
Since the 1950s, the RLDS Church has made a strong effort to be included in the mainstream Christian community (see Roger Launius’ “The RLDS Church and the Decade of Decision” in the bibliography section of this page). Some doctrines have been radically altered and now fit in much closer with Protestant theology than with the views of their parent group, the Mormon Church. Unique Latter Day Saint doctrines, such as Joseph Smith’s restoration of the primitive Christian church, have been de-emphasized. In fact, currently in the RLDS Church there is a strong movement to change the church’s name to the Community of Christ, which would further separate them from the more successful Mormon Church and give them their own identity as a Christian group.
With the theological changes in RLDS doctrine, there is presently debate within the church about their beliefs. For example, the church’s conservative faction staunchly defends Joseph Smith Jr.’s claim that he translated The Book of Mormon from an ancient record. The more liberal wing of the RLDS Church no longer looks at The Book of Mormon as ancient scripture — they consider it a 19th-century creation of Smith. The liberal element has more in control of church doctrine; therefore current RLDS philosophy emphasizes the church’s connections with mainline Christianity (salvation through Christ, The Bible) rather than its differences ( The Book of Mormon , Joseph Smith). The liberal/conservative tension recently mounted to a point where some conservatives splintered off the RLDS Church to form the Restoration Church.
Blair, Alma R. 1973. “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: Moderate Mormons.” The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History. Lawrence, KA. Coronado Press.
Launius, Roger D. 1996. “The RLDS Church and the Decade of Decision.” Sunstone September: pp. 45-55.
Launius, Roger D. 1988. Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Marty, Martin E. 1994. “The Peace Project at the RLDS Peace Temple.” The Christian Century February 23.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1986. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc.
Shields, Steven R. 1986. Latter Day Saint Beliefs: A Comparison Between The RLDS Church and the LDS Church. Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House.
Stack, Peggy Fletcher. 1996. “RLDS Moving Further Away From Mormons.” The Salt Lake Tribune. June 29.
Created by Matthew Moench
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 1997
University of Virginia Last Updated: 07/23/01