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Denominations in the LDS Restorationist movement

The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)

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About the church:

There are at least 20 different religious bodies in the U.S. which have adopted the name:  "The Church of Jesus Christ." This essay describes the one which has its headquarters in Monongahela, near Pittsburgh, PA. It is a LDS restorationist church -- one of almost 100 surviving Mormon faith groups who believe that the true Christian church ended in the early 2nd Century CE when the apostles had died and the church abandoned many of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. They believe that the true church was restored by Joseph Smith when he established the Church of Jesus Christ in 1830. Most believe that they are the only true Christian church; they regard the other restorationist denominations -- and particularly other wings of Christianity -- to be in error.

Alternative names for The Church of Jesus Christ are "The Church" and "Bickertonites." They have churches in Monongahala, PA, Oak Grove, MO, and elsewhere.

There are no recent data on the size of The Church of Jesus Christ. 1 Information from a decade ago indicated a world-wide membership of about 10,000, of which about 2,600 lived in the U.S. According to Adherents.com they had 63 congregations in 1989. 2

A line of succession: Joseph Smith > Sidney Rigdon > William Bickerton:

The Church of Jesus Christ traces its origins to the original LDS church from which it sprang by a rather circuitous route.

The story begins about 1820 with a teenager, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), a resident of Palmyra NY. At the age of 14, he had experienced a vision in which God and Jesus Christ appeared before him as separate entities. They told him that all of the existing Christian sects and denominations were in error. During a later vision, the angel Moroni revealed to Joseph the location of golden tablets on which was written the history of two early American tribes. They were Israelites -- descendants of Joseph and his son Ephraim -- who had migrated from Israel. In 1827, he went to the site, found the tablets, translated the message into English with the aid of some magical glasses, dictated it to trusted friends, and had the resultant material printed as the Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ in 1830. it attracted 1,000 members during its first year of operation. It was a controversial group, not well received by other Christian groups. Some of the friction was caused by the LDS belief that God had revealed a third testament -- the Book of Mormon -- in addition to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament). There was also concern by non-Mormons that the LDS church was attempting to install a theocracy.

Sidney Rigdon joined the LDS movement in 1831. He had a major influence on the church until 1839, in spite of a mental illness -- apparently bipolar affective disorder. He became Joseph Smith's spokesperson and was responsible for a number of

"...doctrines, policies and key portions of Mormon history like the current two-tiered priesthood structure, moving [the church] to Kirtland, temple building, the belief of an immanent [sic] second coming [of Jesus Christ] in early Mormonism, the Joseph Smith 'translation' of the Bible and portions of the Pearl of Great Price, the Word of Wisdom, the United Order, a First Presidency, a salary for some church leaders, the name of the church and the term 'Latter-day Saint,' the Lectures on Faith, a new Jerusalem and Zion in Jackson County, Zion's Camp, and settling in Nauvoo," IL. [All of these were] ... due in large part (or exclusively) to Sidney Rigdon. It is very safe to say that Mormonism would be a very different religion today were it not for Sidney Rigdon's influence. He delivered nearly every significant Mormon sermon in the 1830s."

Few present-day Mormons are familiar with Rigdon's massive contributions to the church during its early years. 3

At the age of 38, Smith decided to run for the presidency of the US. He chose Rigdon as his vice-presidential candidate. 3

Joseph Smith was assassinated in 1844 at Carthage, IL. Rigdon, as first counselor to Smith, was one of the dozen or so logical successors. The LDS church entered a state of major chaos as a power struggle within the church intensified. Many of these potential but unsuccessful leaders left the LDS -- taking part of the membership with them -- to found new restorationist churches. Rignon fell out of favor with the LDS leaders, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was subsequently excommunicated by the newly selected leader of the church, Brigham Young. 3

Sidney Rigdon, left Nauvoo, IL, where the LDS church was temporarily located, and moved to Pittsburgh, PA. About 500 dissident Mormons exited with him. He organized a faith group which he called the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Children of Zion." 4 In 1845 William Bickerton joined this group. He was later ordained an elder and elevated to membership in its Quorum of Seventies. The group dwindled in size, and began to fall apart. Bickerton left the group and joined the "Utah Mormon Church" for a while. After hearing the preaching of the Law of Abraham (doctrine of polygamy), he left that group as well. For many years he held meetings, baptized people, and healed them. Then, he felt called by God to found a new group to "...promote 'the true doctrine of Christ,' that is, Joseph Smith's version." 5 He did this in Greenock, PA, during 1862-JUL, calling it: "The Church of Jesus Christ (or Church of Christ, Bickertonites)." 6 A modern-day member of The Church of Jesus Christ says that it "...operates on authority via Sidney Rigdon and the tenacity of William Bickerton who forged a re-birth of the original restoration church." 7 It was officially incorporated in Monongahela, PA almost 80 years later, on 1941-APR-05.

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Beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ:

As implied in the name of their church, they regard themselves to be the true successor to Joseph Smith's original LDS church, and believe that they are the only legitimate, true Christian church. They also expect to play a major role at TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World, as we Know it). According to church member V. James Lovalvo: "...The Church of Jesus Christ...claims to be the only church to follow and practice the pure and unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness, as established and taught by Him during His lifetime on earth." 8

Some of their beliefs:

bulletGod restored the original Christian Church by revealing the golden tablets to Joseph Smith, translating the Book of Mormon, bestowing the priesthood, and, finally, organizing The Church of Jesus Christ in 1830. But that church later "adopted doctrines that cannot be substantiated by either the Bible or Book of Mormon." God used William Bickerton to "again establish the Church in its restored purity in 1862" in the form of The Church of Jesus Christ.
bulletThe King James Version of the Bible is the foundation of their faith. It is considered inerrant, as far as it has been translated correctly.
bulletThe Book of Mormon is an additional testimony, and is an integral part of the Word of God.
bulletThey do not use the Doctrines and Covenants. 9
bulletLike most other Christian groups, they believe that Jesus has existed with God the Father since creation. He is the Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, preached in Palestine during the first century CE, was crucified, was resurrected and ascended back to heaven.
bulletAlso like most Christian groups, The Church teaches that the spirits of the dead will be judged by God and will receive the reward of spending eternity in Heaven or be cast into a Hell of outer darkness.
bulletLike other Mormon groups, but unlike almost all other Christian denominations, they believe that:
bulletGod "has a form...[and] can speak, hear, see, feel...[and] moves about freely."
bulletHaving a body, God the Father can only be in one location at a time. However, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent.
bulletThe Holy Spirit is not "the Third Personage of the Godhead." Rather, the Spirit is "the invisible power and glory that emanates from God."
bulletAfter Jesus' ascension into Heaven, he came to the American continent, descended from the sky and visited the Nephites.
bulletNative Americans are actually Israelites, "the Seed of Joseph," having descend from Joseph and his son Ephriam. A descendent, Lehi, led an expedition of Israelites from the Middle East to America circa 600 BCE.
bulletThere will be a time of peace on earth in the future, to be followed by Jesus' second coming.
bulletA person is saved through faith and belief, repentance, water baptism and good works. One's salvation can be lost by disobeying the commandments of Jesus:

"...keeping His commandments not only paves the way for salvation, but guarantees that we shall abide in His love....This language is clear: keeping the commandments of Jesus Christ will bring salvation; not obeying them will deprive a person of the kingdom of God." III Nephi 12:19-20 of the Book of Mormon states: '...except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven'."

bulletWhen a believer is bitten by a poisonous snake, he will not be harmed. This appears to be based on a passage at the end of the Gospel of Mark, considered by many theologians to be a forgery.
bulletMany are healed of physical illnesses by experiencing an anointing with oil and the laying-on-of-hands by members of the priesthood.
bulletMembers of the church commonly receive gifts from the Holy Ghost of wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, discerning of spirits and speaking in tongues .
bulletGod will shortly use The Church of Jesus Christ to spread the real Gospel to the rest of the human race.
bulletGod will raise up a mighty prophet at some time in the future. He will have the title the "Choice Seer," and will be named Joseph. He and will facilitate a major undertaking: the gathering of "...the whole House of Israel: the Jews, the American Indian, and the ten lost tribes..." into one "fold" in America.
bulletGod issues new revelations from time to time through the Holy Ghost via dreams, visions, signs, gifts, and his Word. 8

Practices of The Church of Jesus Christ:

bulletThe Church is led by a Quorum of 12.
bulletHeading the Quorum is the president whose responsibility are purely administrative. He is in no way considered a prophet as in the LDS.
bulletThe priesthood is only open to males. In common with most other LDS Restorationist faith groups, women, no matter how qualified and talented, are not eligible for ordination.
bulletSimilar to the Amish, The Church practices foot washing as a ritual, at least once every three months.
bulletMembers greet each other with a "holy kiss."
bulletBaptized members in good standing partake of the Lord's Supper weekly.
bulletBaptism is by full immersion in an outside body of water -- "...a river, lake, sea, ocean, creek or running stream." Baptism is restricted to persons of an "accountable age."
bulletFollowing baptism, the Holy Ghost is bestowed through the laying on of hands by one or more men having priesthood authority.
bulletThey do not permit polygamy. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Divorce is permitted, but remarriage is only allowable for the survivor after the other spouse dies. 9

References:

  1. The Church of Jesus Christ has an official web site at: www.the-church.org with a mirror at: www.thechurchofjesuschrist.com
  2. 1994 data quoted in Adherents.com web site at: http://www.adherents.com/
  3. Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Sidney Rigdon: A portrait of religious excess," Signature Books, (1994). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  4. "Hello Marina," Refiner's Fire Ministries Q&A, at: http://help4rlds.com/
  5. Dale Morgan, "A Bibliography of the Church of Jesus Christ Organized at Green Oak, Pennsylvania, July, 1862," Western Humanities Review 4 (Winter 1949/50), Pages 1 to 28.
  6. "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Watchman Fellowship, at: http://www.watchman.org/
  7. "The Church of Jesus Christ," Beliefnet discussion forum, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/ Posting 33
  8. V. James Lovalvo, "A dissertation on the faith and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ," at: http://www.the-church.org/ You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
  9. A posting on the Letters to the Editor column of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 2004-APR-20, at: http://www.utlm.org/
  10. William Cadman, "A History of the Church of Jesus Christ, Organized at Green Oak, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., in the Year 1862, Present Headquarters at Monongahela, Pa," The Church, (1945).
  11. Steven Shield, "Divergent Paths of the Restoration," Restoration Research, (1982). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright © 2004 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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