26063

License for John Whitmer, 9 June 1830

This license

A document certifying an individual’s office in the church and authorizing him “to perform the duty of his calling.” The “Articles and Covenants” of the church implied that only elders could issue licenses; individuals ordained by a priest to an office in...

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certified that John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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was an “Apostle

A title indicating one sent forth to preach; later designated as a specific ecclesiastical and priesthood office. By 1830, JS and Oliver Cowdery were designated as apostles. The “Articles and Covenants” of the church explained that an “apostle is an elder...

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of Jesus Christ[,] an Elder

A male leader in the church generally; an ecclesiastical and priesthood office or one holding that office; a proselytizing missionary. The Book of Mormon explained that elders ordained priests and teachers and administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto...

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of this Church of Christ

The Book of Mormon related that when Christ set up his church in the Americas, “they which were baptized in the name of Jesus, were called the church of Christ.” The first name used to denote the church JS organized on 6 April 1830 was “the Church of Christ...

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.” It was penned by Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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at the first conference

A meeting where ecclesiastical officers and other church members could conduct church business. The “Articles and Covenants” of the church directed the elders to hold conferences to perform “Church business.” The first of these conferences was held on 9 June...

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of the church on 9 June 18301

See Historical Introduction to Minutes, 9 June 1830.  


and was endorsed by JS and Cowdery, the first and second elders of the church. As called for in “Articles and Covenants,” which was formally accepted by church members at this conference, the newly founded Church of Christ issued certificates to ordained

The conferral of power and authority; to appoint, decree, or set apart. Church members, primarily adults, were ordained to ecclesiastical offices and other responsibilities by the laying on of hands by those with the proper authority. Ordinations to priesthood...

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members as a public proclamation of their affiliation with and ordination in the church.2

Articles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830 [D&C 20:63–64]. Other religious societies had a similar practice; compare, for instance, these licenses to those issued by Baptists, as illustrated in “License, A Form of,” in Baptist Encyclopedia, 701.  


Whitmer received his license along with four other elders, three priests

An ecclesiastical and priesthood office. In the Book of Mormon, priests were described as those who baptized, administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church,” and taught “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” A June 1829 revelation directed...

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, and two teachers

Generally, one who instructs, but also an ecclesiastical and priesthood office. The Book of Mormon explained that teachers were to be ordained “to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end...

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.3 Three of these licenses—those for John Whitmer, Joseph Smith Sr., and Christian Whitmer—are extant. This apparently initiated the practice of issuing licenses for men holding offices in the church.4

On the formalization of licensing procedures, see Cannon, “Licensing in the Early Church,” 96–105.  


The Church of Christ had been established two months earlier, on 6 April 1830. David Whitmer

7 Jan. 1805–25 Jan. 1888. Farmer, livery keeper. Born near Harrisburg, Dauphin Co., Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Raised Presbyterian. Moved to Ontario Co., New York, shortly after birth. Attended German Reformed Church. Arranged...

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stated that “the church was called together and the elders

A male leader in the church generally; an ecclesiastical and priesthood office or one holding that office; a proselytizing missionary. The Book of Mormon explained that elders ordained priests and teachers and administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto...

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acknowledged according to the laws of New York

Located in northeast region of U.S. Area settled by Dutch traders, 1620s; later governed by Britain, 1664–1776. Admitted to U.S. as state, 1788. Population in 1810 about 1,000,000; in 1820 about 1,400,000; in 1830 about 1,900,000; and in 1840 about 2,400,...

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,”5

“Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, 1.  


and though no documents of incorporation for the church survive, the procedure followed at the organizational meeting and the wording of these certificates seem to reflect the language and spirit of an 1813 New York law for the “incorporation of religious societies.”6

Although no extant documents demonstrate that the Church of Christ was legally established on 6 April 1830, religious societies were not required under New York law to undergo formal incorporation in order to be officially recognized. (An Act to Provide for the Incorporation of Religious Societies [5 Apr. 1813], Laws of the State of New-York [1813], vol. 2, pp. 212–219; see also Stott, “Legal Insights into the Organization of the Church in 1830,” 122–132.)  


Whether the church was formally incorporated or not, John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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’s certificate implies that church members may have been using the New York law as their guide.
The license for John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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certified that he had been baptized

An ordinance in which an individual is immersed in water for the remission of sins. The Book of Mormon explained that those with necessary authority were to baptize individuals who had repented of their sins. Baptized individuals also received the gift of...

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according to the “Articles & Covenants,” the church’s founding document, and ordained by JS. The license also declared that Whitmer was both an apostle and an elder. The title “apostle,” however, was later crossed out. Though it is unknown when the redaction was made, it may have been made after twelve apostles

Members of a governing body in the church, with special administrative and proselytizing responsibilities. A June 1829 revelation commanded Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer to call twelve disciples, similar to the twelve apostles in the New Testament and ...

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were called in 1835 and might thus have been an attempt to reinterpret the license’s meaning in hindsight. Even though a June 1829 revelation foreshadowed the calling of twelve “disciples,”7

Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18:26–27].  


the certificate likely designated John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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as an apostle in the sense of one who was commissioned or sent forth to preach, not one who was ordained

The conferral of power and authority; to appoint, decree, or set apart. Church members, primarily adults, were ordained to ecclesiastical offices and other responsibilities by the laying on of hands by those with the proper authority. Ordinations to priesthood...

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to a specific office with the title “apostle.” No one was described as an apostle in official records in this period, including the early minutes of church conferences

A meeting where ecclesiastical officers and other church members could conduct church business. The “Articles and Covenants” of the church directed the elders to hold conferences to perform “Church business.” The first of these conferences was held on 9 June...

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, which typically listed the office of each male attendee. John Whitmer himself kept many of these records as the first church historian and also wrote a personal daybook after 1832, but he gave himself other titles in these writings and never called himself an apostle.8

See Whitmer, History, 1–96; Whitmer, Daybook, 1832–1878. Soon after he was given this license, John Whitmer signed the certificates of Newel Knight as an elder (in the summer of 1830) and William Smith as a teacher (on 5 October 1831). Both certificates specified that Whitmer was an “Elder.” (Knight, History, 2313; License for William Smith, 5 Oct. 1831.)  


Nonetheless, when John Whitmer was sent to Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

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in January 1831, Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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sent him with a letter that read, “Receive him, for he is a brother greatly beloved, and an Apostle of this church,”9

Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 110.  


which again likely referred to Whitmer’s role as a messenger and preacher rather than to an ecclesiastical office.
The use of the term elder and the office itself were also developing as the Church of Christ grew. The Book of Mormon described the offices of teacher, priest, and disciple

Generally, a follower of Jesus Christ, and in certain cases, one selected to lead the ministry. In the New Testament, Christ ordained twelve of his disciples as apostles. The Book of Mormon recounted that during his ministry to the Nephites, Christ similarly...

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, and by June 1829 Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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drew from these accounts to create a list of duties for each in his “Articles of the Church of Christ.”10

See “Articles of the Church of Christ,” June 1829; see also Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, 32.  


Articles and Covenants, approved by the church on 9 June 1830, similarly described these offices but provided more detail, and also included the office of elder.11 Until June 1831, elder was the highest office one could hold in the church.12

See, for example, Minutes, 9 June 1830; Minutes, 26 Sept. 1830; and Minutes, ca. 3–4 June 1831. An elder’s duties were to “baptize and to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons, and to administer the flesh and blood of Christ according to the scriptures, and to teach, expound, and exhort, and to baptize and to watch over the church, and to confirm the church by the laying on of hands and the giving of the Holy Ghost, and to take the lead of all meetings, &c. The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost.” (Articles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830 [D&C 20:38–45].)  


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