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The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)

The Church of Jesus Christ is a Christian religious denomination headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, United States. It has sometimes been referred to as a "Bickertonite church" or "Rigdonite organization" based upon the church's claims of succession through William Bickerton and Sidney Rigdon. The church does not use these terms in referring to itself.

The Church of Jesus Christ is a Restorationist church and is historically part of the Latter Day Saint movement. The church is not officially affiliated with any other church, organization or denomination. The church has members in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa—for a membership total of 12,136. The Church of Jesus Christ is considered "the third largest Restoration church to have resulted from the 1844 succession crisis".

The Church of Jesus Christ claims to be the spiritual successor to the Church of Christ, organized by Joseph Smith, Jr. on April 6, 1830. The Church of Jesus Christ claims that Sidney Rigdon was Joseph Smith's rightful successor following the assassination of Smith because Rigdon was Smith's first counselor in the First Presidency.

The Church of Jesus Christ's stated purpose is "to share the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, His promises and His redeeming love with all nations and races throughout the world and to carry out God’s plans in the latter days." The Church of Jesus Christ has spread throughout many countries and is growing both in America and abroad.

Mission and purpose

The church teaches that it should be a place to:

  • "establish, develop and nurture a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God"
  • "grow in grace through song, worship, testimony, fasting and prayer"
  • "enjoy the love of God and fellowship by ‘working’ with others of the same desire"
  • "understand and learn the Holy Scriptures through adult class study"
  • "teach and nurture children according to God's Word through Sunday School Youth Groups"
  • "strengthen marriages and families"
  • "better understand what they believe to be the Lord’s will in our lives"

The church believes that serving God and following Jesus is a "365 day per year activity", not just a Sunday activity. Chapels of the church contain neither altars nor crosses nor even pictures, as they believe scripture forbids any type of "graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" ().

Use of descriptive terms

The Church of Jesus Christ is often referred to as a "Bickertonite" and a "Rigdonite" organization. These terms have reference to the church's claim of succession through William Bickerton and Sidney Rigdon. These terms are correct in their historical significance as applied to the succession of the church; however, The Church of Jesus Christ discourages their use because doing so detracts from the church's claim that the founder of the church is Jesus Christ. The church refers to itself only as "The Church of Jesus Christ", its legal and official name.

History

The Church of Jesus Christ claims to be a continuation of the Church of Christ, which was the original church organization established by Joseph Smith, Jr. informally in 1829 and then as a legal entity on April 6 1830 in northwestern New York state.On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, and a group of approximately 30 believers met to formally organize the Church of Christ into a legal institution. Traditionally, this is said to have occurred at the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr. in Fayette, New York, but early accounts place it in Manchester. Soon after this formal organization, small branches were formally established in Fayette, Manchester, and Colesville.

Smith and his associates intended that the Church of Christ would be a restoration of the 1st century Christian church, which Smith taught had fallen from God's favor and authority because of a Great Apostasy. In late 1830, Smith envisioned a "city of Zion" in Native American lands near Independence, Missouri. In October 1830 he sent his second-in-command Oliver Cowdery and others on a mission to the area. Passing through Kirtland, Ohio, the missionaries converted a congregation of Disciples of Christ led by Sidney Rigdon, and in 1831, Smith decided to temporarily move his followers to Kirtland until the Missouri area could be colonized. The church headquarters remained in Kirtland from 1831 to 1838.

Many of Smith's followers attempted to colonize Missouri throughout the 1830s, and Smith himself moved there in 1838, the church faced political and military opposition by other Missouri settlers. After a series of crises, the church then established its new headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois, a city they built on drained swampland by the Mississippi River, where Joseph Smith Jr. served as mayor. There, the church thrived until Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob in 1844. They were awaiting trial for crimes related to the destruction of the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor. At the time, Joseph Smith was a minor candidate for President of the United States with Sidney Rigdon as his running mate.

When Joseph Smith was killed in 1844, there was confusion about who should succeed him in leading the church. Many of the leaders of the church were absent from Nauvoo at the time of his death, serving as missionaries or working on Joseph Smith's presidential campaign. Sidney Rigdon was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he heard of Smith's death, and hurried back to Nauvoo, becoming one of the first church leaders to return. He quickly announced that he had the right to lead the church as its "guardian" until proper proceedings could decide the next church president, and that the Quorum of the Twelve did not have the right to lead the church. Rigdon had been ordained by Joseph Smith as a "Prophet, Seer and Revelator"

The Church of Jesus Christ maintains that the First Presidency had made nearly all the major decisions and led the Church of Christ prior to Smith's death, and as first counselor to Smith, Rigdon should naturally have been the leader of the church after Smith's death.

The Latter Day Saints who followed Rigdon separated themselves from the followers of Brigham Young. Rigdon and his followers settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On April 6, 1845, Rigdon presided over a conference of the Church of Christ, which he claimed was the rightful continuation of the church founded by Smith. William Bickerton was among those converted by Rigdon's preaching, and was baptized at Pittsburgh in 1845. Later that same year Bickerton was ordained an elder and shortly after an evangelist in the church.Rigdon’s organization disbanded shortly afterwards.

Bickerton continued to preach and by May 1851 a branch of the church was organized under Bickerton's leadership in West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. At a conference in July 9, 1861, it was recorded that twelve of their number were chosen and called by the Holy Spirit to be apostles. The church was incorporated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in June 1865 with the legal name, "Church of Jesus Christ of Green Oak, Pennsylvania." On 5 April, 1941, the church in Pennsylvania was granted the title of "The Church of Jesus Christ" by Washington County, Pennsylvania. The church today is legally registered as "The Church of Jesus Christ" in the corporate registry of the state of Pennsylvania.

Organizational structure and membership

The Church of Jesus Christ does not view the prophetic office as limited to a "prophet" or to the president of the church. Rather, members believe that it encompasses the Quorum of Twelve Apostles together and that revelations can be given to individual members of the church. The president of the church and his two counselors are elected by the general priesthood in conference and selected from amongst the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. The president of the church, while being an ordained apostle, functions as the chief operating officer, overseeing the general operations of the church. In contrast, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles has its own president and officers elected amongst themselves, independent of the general priesthood. The Quorum of Twelve are primarily responsible for guiding the spiritual growth and development of the church in general, acting as advisers to key operating committees. Other officers of the church include the Quorum of Seventy Evangelists.

The church records revelations that are deemed valid by the apostles, and publishes them where believed appropriate, but these are not bound together in a single volume. These revelations may come from the Quorum of the Twelve singly or together. They also may come from individual members of the church, and will only be published if they are approved by the Quorum.

Today, The Church of Jesus Christ has a total worldwide membership of 12,136, with nearly 3,000 located in the United States. The church continues to experience significant growth in comparison to some of the other smaller Latter Day Saint organizations. Within the last decade, it has been engaged in the construction of new church buildings in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, and Arizona, along with similar construction efforts in many foreign countries.

Doctrines and practices

The Church of Jesus Christ is independent of any other church in the Latter Day Saint movement. The Church of Jesus Christ has long rejected plural marriage, celestial marriage, two separate priesthoods, and many other doctrines taught by some other Latter Day Saint movement denominations. The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that many of the doctrines and revelations Joseph Smith taught were not from God and were contrary to the Bible and Book of Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ also teaches that many of the Latter Day Saint denominations fell into error by following these revelations. The Church of Jesus Christ views the nature of God as explained in the Bible and Book of Mormon, which The Church of Jesus Christ claims differs from the views on the nature of God taught by the LDS Church.

Nature of God

The Church of Jesus Christ teaches a belief in God, the Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. All three are the great and matchless power that rules all things. The Father is believed to be a personage of glory and the Son is His express image. The Son was with the Father from the beginning and born of the Virgin Mary, died and rose on the third day. Christ is considered the head of the church who will return again to His Bride, the church.

The Holy Ghost is considered to be the mind of the Father and the Son. It is the unseen power emanating from God and, at His will, manifests itself in various forms. It is a gift for mankind that is considered pure, holy, just, and full of discernment.

Scriptures

The Church of Jesus Christ believes that the New Testament scriptures contain a true description of the church as established by Jesus Christ. They believe this church as set up to be sufficient for life and salvation to all humankind.

Both the Bible and Book of Mormon are considered the inspired word of God. All doctrines and faith of the church are referenced with these two books. Other books commonly associated with the Latter Day Saint movement such as the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and others are considered to contain many false revelations and are not accepted by the church. The church believes in continuing revelation from God, but only when those revelations are supported by the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Salvation

The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that the church as set by Christ in the New Testament contains all doctrines and practices essential for salvation. Adherents believe that the church today should contain every element of the early church. Humankind will be punished according to their own sins and not the sins of Adam and Eve. Little children, therefore, have no need of salvation and are commonly blessed by the priesthood. Young people are permitted to join the church when they reach an age of accountability.

Principles of the gospel

  1. Faith - Members must believe in Jesus Christ, that He died and resurrected.
  2. Repentance - A feeling of sorrow for sin and desire to sin no more.
  3. Baptism (Water) - Done by immersion in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for the remission of sins. Immersion is considered being buried in likeness of the death of Christ and arising in newness of life. The church teaches that baptism must be in a natural body of water such as a river or lake, and not in a pool or other artificial structure.
  4. Baptism (Fire) - Laying on of hands to receive the Holy Ghost. The priesthood lay hands on the head of the candidate for this reception after the baptism of water.

Priesthood and church structure

The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that the structure of the early church and that apostles, evangelists, elders, teachers, and deacons should still lead the church today. The most important calling within the church is considered to be that of a member. The leadership is not considered a hierarchy, but rather the higher the calling the greater the service. Each leadership position within the church further adds to the service required. No office within the church is paid, including the ministry. Apostles lead the church; evangelists preach to the world; elders serve their various branches and missions. All of these offices are considered the "ministry" of the church. Teachers visit the membership, teach, and preach or lead services when elders are not present. Deacons visit the sick, widows, and attend to many physical and spiritual duties for each branch of the church. Deaconesses set the sacrament table and attend to the needs and development of the women of the church.

Although women may serve as deaconesses in the church, in accordance with the church's interpretation of the scriptures, only men may become elders. Deaconesses do not have priesthood authority but prepare the communion tables. Deacons set up chairs and prepare the chapel for meetings; they also care for the members of the church in general and visit the sick in particular. Elders are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the church. As with most Restoration denominations, elders are never referred to as "Father" or "Reverend", as the belief of the church is that scripture forbids this practice (Matthew 23:9). Likewise, elders and all church officials (including the Church Presidency and Quorum of Apostles) are volunteers and receive no financial remuneration for their activities. Elders perform administration to the sick through the laying on of hands, using oil if the illness is physical. According to the doctrine of the church, elders, evangelists, and apostles are called to their positions by revelation.

In worship services, members of the priesthood do not prepare written sermons prior to the meeting. Instead, the priesthood strives to speak under the inspiration of Jesus Christ, claiming that the Holy Spirit directs their words. Each week, church services begin with preaching from the priesthood and generally followed by a testimony portion of the meeting, during which time members of the congregation (and visitors) are given the opportunity to "praise God for what He has done for them."

Joseph Smith

The Church of Jesus Christ considers Joseph Smith, Jr. to have been a prophet and a seer, and an instrument in the hands of God in the restoration of the gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ believes that many revelations began to enter into the church through Smith that were contrary to the scriptures and the will of God. In contrast with other Latter Day Saint denominations, The Church of Jesus Christ does not believe Joseph Smith was the "Choice Seer" predicted by the Book of Mormon (). Its members are still awaiting the coming of the Choice Seer whom many in the organization believe will be of Native American heritage.

One of the key reasons why The Church of Jesus Christ believes Joseph Smith received many revelations contrary to the Word of God was described by one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, David Whitmer. A revelation received by Joseph to go to Toronto for business turned into a bankrupt expedition. Smith then was reportedly given a revelation clarifying that, "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." Thus, in order to strictly adhere to God's will, The Church of Jesus Christ only accepts revelation as supported by the Bible and the Book of Mormon. William Cadman wrote on this matter:

"There has been much said about Joseph Smith...all people who manifest faith in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, do acknowledge him to be inspired of God when but a youth....He has been a much accused man, whether truly or falsely, eternity will reveal. If he taught plural marriage...plural Gods, baptism for the dead, the Book of Mormon does not sustain him, neither does the teachings of our Savior in the New Testament...The Church of Jesus Christ does not believe such teachings."

Other

Members refer to each other as "Brother" and "Sister." The church counsels members to be moderate in all things including their dress and appearance.

The Church of Jesus Christ believes that hymns are often revealed through divine inspiration for the edification of the church. They use many different songbooks, but mainly two: The Saints Hymnal and The Songs of Zion.

The church maintains a publishing house in Bridgewater, Michigan and prints its own edition of the Book of Mormon. The church publishes a monthly periodical called The Gospel News.

Ordinances

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ perform many ordinances as found in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Baptism, the Lord's Supper, feet washing, and others are all ways to remember Jesus Christ. The church claims these ordinances demonstrate remembrance, love, and humility before God and each other.

The Lord's Supper

Like many Christian denominations, the church uses bread and wine for the "The Lord's Supper", representing the body and blood of Christ which they believe was sacrificed for the sins of humankind. The prayers for the Sacrament are not read verbatim from the Book of Mormon (and ), but are left to "inspiration of the Holy Spirit." A first prayer is given prior to passing the bread and then another is offered prior to passing the wine. The communion is administered only to active, baptized members of the church. The wine is served in a communal cup. The ministers serve the congregation by walking around to each person in their seats, first with plate of bread and then with the cup of wine. The bread is not wafers or crackers, but leavened bread that has been broken into small pieces by the ministry during the ordinance. The ministers are the last to partake of the bread and the wine after the congregation has been served.

Feet washing

Church members follow the ordinance of feet washing four times a year as a demonstration of personal humility. The church believes that this is a very important ordinance, citing Jesus' statement to Peter: "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me."

Holy kiss

Church members greet each other with a "holy kiss", preferably on the cheek, to signify that they are greeting each other in the love of God, in accordance with the description given in the King James Version of the New Testament.

Gifts of the Spirit

Members of the church believe in the gifts of the Spirit, as described in their scriptures. These include but are not limited to: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, discernment, witnessing of angels, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of divers tongues.

Racial integration

The Church of Jesus Christ has advocated full racial integration throughout all aspects of the church since its organization in 1862. While America disputed over civil liberties and racial segregation, the church claimed their message was for all races. In 1905, the church suspended an elder for opposing the full integration of all races.

Historian Dale Morgan wrote in 1949: "An interesting feature of the Church's doctrine is that it discriminates in no way against ... members of other racial groups, who are fully admitted to all the privileges of the priesthood. It has taken a strong stand for human rights, and was, for example, uncompromisingly against the Ku Klux Klan during that organization's period of ascendancy after the First World War."

At a time when racial segregation or discrimination was commonplace in most institutions throughout America, including the LDS Church, two of the most prominent leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ were African American. Apostle John Penn, member of the Quorum of Twelve from 1910 to 1955, conducted missionary work with many Italian Americans, and was often referred to as "The Italian's Doctor". Matthew Miller, an evangelist ordained in 1937, traveled throughout Canada establishing missions with Native Americans.

References

Further reading

  • Entz, Gary R. "The Bickertonites: Schism and Reunion in a Restoration Church, 1880-1905," Journal of Mormon History 32 (fall 2006): 1-44.

External links

U.S. Regions of The Church of Jesus Christ

Youth Missionary Programs

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