Sunday, February 28, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 20-22: The Organization of the Church

The organization of the Church took place April 6, 1830.  What things had to take place before the Church could be organized?  (Revelation on the nature of God, translation of the Book of Mormon containing the Gospel, Restoration of the Priesthood.)

Joseph and Oliver had received an explicit revelation describing the procedures to be followed on this day of organization after praying for direction in the bedroom of the Whitmer cabin.  They had received this revelation 10 months before the Church was organized (June 1829) and the Lord told them to take the time to do it right.  For example, he said to ordain each other elders, but to wait until they assembled and organized the Saints to do it, so that the Saints could vote on whether they would accept Joseph and Oliver as their two leaders.

So Joseph sent to all the Saints to invite them to gather at the Whitmer cabin for the first sacrament meeting in this dispensation, and the event of the organization of the Church.  In a conversation nearly 70 years later, David Whitmer said that there were about 20 saints from Colesville, 15 from Manchester, and 20 from Fayette, in addition to the six who became the official charter members.

At this meeting, Section 20 of the D&C was received.  Section 20 is a handbook of rules, a constitution for the Church of Jesus Christ.  It states that those prerequisites to Church organization had been met.  For example:
Verse 16 and on: God had revealed himself to Joseph Smith and others.
Verses 8-12: The Book of Mormon had been translated, offering additional proof of the nature of God.
Verses 2-4: The Priesthood had been restored and given to Joseph and Oliver.

This constitution also states the basic beliefs of the Church.  You can find all of the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel laid out here.  For example:
Faith in Christ: Verses 14-15, 25-27, 37
Repentance: Verses 5-6, 20-24, 37
Baptism: Verse 37
Holy Ghost: Verses 25-26, 35, 37
as well as guidelines for Priesthood ordinances (Verse 37 on through the end) and record-keeping.

In addition to following the commandments the Lord gave them, Joseph Smith also wanted the Church to be legally recognized.  Section III of the 1819 New York Act “to provide for the Incorporation of Religious Societies,” specified that, to become incorporated, a church needed to “assemble at the church meetinghouse” (the Whitmer cabin), elect no less than three and no more than nine male members to be trustees (Joseph Smith arbitrarily chose the number six) over the temporal affairs of the church, and two elders were to be elected to preside (Joseph and Oliver).  So the Church was organized according to law (although the original incorporation entry has actually never been found among the court records in Seneca County). (Garr, Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, p.878) The six men were Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer Jr., Samuel H. Smith, and David Whitmer.  (History of the Church 1:76)

Read aloud Our Heritage, p.14-15 ”With the consent…” to “…priesthood officers.”  Everyone who had already been baptized was rebaptized, now to become Church members, and several new members were baptized that day, among them Joseph Smith’s parents, Martin Harris, and Orrin Porter Rockwell, who was only 16 (HC 1:74-79).


Watch this 1-1/2 minute video, "Joseph Smith Organizes the Church."

I had never thought about children being present until I saw this video, but, of course, they would have been.  Just as when Christ appeared to the Lamanites after His resurrection, the children had front-row seats at this sacred experience.  They witnessed the ordinances and revelations received, and they felt the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.  In fact, there was a little 11-year-old boy named David Lewis who came to the meeting without his parents.  He wanted to line up to be baptized, but Joseph Smith told him he needed to go home and talk it over with his parents.  He did so, and they gave their permission.  Less than a month after the Church was organized, on David’s 12th birthday, Joseph Smith baptized him in a stream.  After the baptism, Joseph tried to persuade him not to go home because a violent thunderstorm had just broken.  But David had promised his mother that he would come straight home, so Joseph honored that obedience and let him go, and he gave him a promise that the Lord would protect him.  On the way, David became lost in the darkness and rain, but, recalling the Prophet’s promise, he exercised his faith and prayed for guidance.  After his prayer, he saw something that looked like a lamp.  He followed it, and it led him to his house (Kelly, Latter-day History, p.49-50).

Anyway, back to the story…

Joseph Smith said, “…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.”  (HC 1:78-79)  The name of the Church was later lengthened out to what we have now.  (See D&C 115:4)


Put up map of the world.  Paste dates on areas as they are discussed.  You can also use this map:

I have noted a few details below  about the spread of the church through various areas of the world.  For current statistics and more details about any individual country's history of missionary work, please check out the church's website, MormonNewsRoom, Facts and Statistics page.

If any readers from any of these countries would like to post additional information or personal stories of conversion, that would be fabulous.  Just add them to the comments, and I will link them into the article.

North America – 1830
No time was wasted.  Shortly after the Church was organized, missionaries were called to go forth.  Parley P. Pratt was among them.  He reported, “…we traveled on foot for 300 miles through vast prairies and through trackless wilds of snow – no beaten road; houses few and far between; and the bleak northwest wind always blowing in our faces with a keenness which would almost take the skin off the face.  We traveled for whole days, from morning till night, without a house or fire, wading in snow to the knees at every step, and the cold so intense that the snow did not melt on the south side of the houses, even in the mid-day sun, for nearly six weeks … [During this four-month mission,] we’d preached the Gospel to tens of thousands of Gentiles and two nations of Indians; baptizing, confirming, and organizing many hundreds of people into Churches of Latter-day Saints.”  (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 39-40)  Within the year, missionaries were also preaching in Canada.
Brigham City, Utah Temple
(This photograph taken by my friend,
Debbie Raymond.  She gives permission
to use for teaching purposes.)
As of February 2021, there are 9,400,000 members in 173 missions with 110 temples in North America. Are there any members from your family or your ward/branch that have served or are currently serving in North America?

Western Europe – 1837
In July 1837, the first missionaries arrived in England.  In the first 9 months, there were 1,600 converts.  By 1851 (14 years later), there were almost 31,000 members of the Church in the Great Britain Mission, over twice as many as there were in the United States and Canada combined.  Between 1850 and 1888, the missionary work spread to cover the entire continent and its isles: France, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, and Sweden, 1850; Germany, Iceland, and Holland, 1851; Norway and Malta, 1852; Gibraltar, 1858; Austria and Hungary, 1865; Finland, 1875; and Belgium, 1888.  The work in Norway and Sweden was difficult until 1870 when they became religiously free.  After that, the Scandinavian Mission was the second most powerful mission in the Church. Many of these members gathered to the United States. Now, in 2021, there are 497,000 members of the Church in 34 missions with 14 temples in Western and Eastern Europe combined. 
Have any members of your family or your ward/branch served in Western Europe?

 London, England Temple
This picture from

Pacific Islands – 1843
Joseph Smith called four missionaries to the Pacific Islands, the first foreign language mission.  These missionaries endured extremely difficult circumstances; in fact, one of them died on the voyage there.  But by 1850, 2,000 French Polynesian islanders had been baptized.  The missionary work spread to Hawaii.  The mission (language, disease, culture, starvation) was so difficult that half of the missionaries went home.   But those who remained reaped a great harvest.  Within four years, 3,000 were baptized.  Several Maori priests predicted the coming of the true church. In 1881, Paora Patongaroa, an elder priest of the Maori people in New Zealand, fasted, prayed, and meditated for three days about which of the Christian churches his people should join.  After his fast, he reported to his people that the true church had not yet come to the island, but that they would recognize it when it came because the missionaries would travel in pairs, would come from the rising sun, would visit people in their homes, would learn their language and teach in their own tongue, and would raise their right arms when they officiated. (Brian William Hunt, "History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand," BYU Master's Thesis, p. 28-29, quoting Matthew Cowley, "Maori Chief Predicts Coming of LDS Missionaries," Improvement Era, Sept. 1950, p. 696.)   Within a few years, the missionaries did come, and within eight years there were 70 branches of the Church in New Zealand.  By 1892, 10% of all Maoris were LDS. Presently there are 572,895 members in 17 missions with 10 temples in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. 
Are there any from your family or ward/branch that have or are currently serving in the Pacific Islands?

Apia Samoa Temple
Picture from

South America – 1925
Standing in Buenos Aires on Christmas Day, 1925, Melvin J. Ballard dedicated the land of South America to missionary work.  There were currently 12 members of the Church in all of South America, and all of them were Europeans.  There was not one native member.  President Ballard prophesied that the growth would start small but then become huge.  He prophesied that South America would be divided into more than one mission.  (Quite an understatement!)  It happened as he said.  After the first nine years of missionary work, there were only 329 members.  Gradually the growth picked up until in 1997, there were over two million members. Today there are over 4 million members in 94 missions with 21 temples in South America. 

Are there any members from your ward/branch or family that have served or are currently serving in South America, or that are originally from South America?

Asuncion, Paraguay Temple

Asia – 1949
Although the first three missionaries went to Hong Kong in 1852, they had no success and returned home. On July 14, 1949, standing on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, church leadership, with Matthew Cowley as voice, re-opened Asia to missionary work, prophesying that there would one day be a temple there (Church News). (The same thing happened in Korea.) 

In 1901, missionaries went to Japan, where they experienced a very slow start to the work, but successfully translated the Book of Mormon (Encyclopedia of Mormonism). U.S. servicemen in Japan during WWII and its postwar occupation (including Elder Boyd K. Packer) started the spread of the gospel there. Now there are 130,000 members in Japan in 6 missions with 3 temples. 

Stastitics are unavailable for mainland China and proselyting is not allowed there, but members who join the Church elsewhere are allowed to meet. Here in Logan, Utah, we recently had a missionary serving from mainland China who was a second-generation member. 

By 1951, there were 30 regularly-attending Church members in Hong Kong. By 1960, there were 1,700 members. Now there are 25,000 members in Hong Kong. 

The first Asian temples were dedicated in 1980 in Japan, in 1984 in Taiwan, in 1985 in South Korea, and in 1996 in Hong Kong.

Missionaries have proselyted in the India subcontinent as early as the 1860s, but only recently has the church had a permanent presence in India.  The India Bangalore Mission was created in January of 1993 (October 1993 Liahona). Now there are nearly 14,500 members in 2 missions in India.

Presently in the 19 countries designated as "Asia" by the Church, there are 1,230,000 members in 44 missions with 8 temples.

Hong Kong, China Temple
Picture from

Ask the same questions about Asia.

Africa -- 1976

Although the church was established in South Africa in 1853, the gospel was not preached to black Africans until after the revelation on the priesthood (Gospel Pioneers in Africa, August 1990 Ensign).

"Anthony Obinna of Nigeria had a dream in 1965 of a beautiful building. “A personage appeared to me three times,” he said. “He took me to the beautiful building and showed me everything in it.” Anthony never forgot that dream, and later, when he came across a picture of the same building in an old copy of Reader’s Digest magazine, he recognized it. It was the Salt Lake Temple.

"He wrote to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, for information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then continued to correspond. As he and others in his area learned of the gospel, they began to meet together in worship services and tried to live the gospel as best they could. It is no surprise that in 1978, when the first official Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in West Africa, Anthony Obinna became the first native of Nigeria to be baptized in that country.

"Brother Obinna was only one of hundreds of West Africans who had been previously prepared to receive the gospel. These early converts were readied in a variety of ways. Some West Africans traveled to other countries, learned of the gospel while there, and then brought information back with them. Others learned from West Africans who already believed in the gospel. In these ways, congregations with testimonies of the Book of Mormon gathered in both Nigeria and Ghana. These individuals learned the gospel without the aid of full-time missionaries, and several of the congregations were unknown to each other" (August 1993 Ensign).  Presently there are 666,500 members in 35 missions with 4 temples in Africa. 

Are any of your family members or ward/branch members originally from Africa or have any served missions in Africa?

(If you or any class members are troubled by the delay in extending priesthood blessings to Africans, please see my blog lesson Continuing Revelation.)

 Aba, Nigeria Temple

Post-revolution Eastern Europe – 1990 (Russia)
When the Iron Curtain went up in 1945 after World War II, it sealed off a small group of Church members in East Germany and Czechoslovakia.  At peril of their lives, they continued to believe and meet to worship, as atheism became the official position of their countries.  All missionary work ceased, except what came over the airwaves and later satellites, including broadcasts by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

In 1968, in the midst of this time of religious oppression, Thomas S. Monson visited East Germany.  The Spirit of the Lord impressed him to promise those Saints, “If you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God, every blessing any member of the Church enjoys in any other country will be yours” (May ’89 Ensign, p.51).  It was a stunning promise.  But the Saints did remain true and faithful, binding the Lord to His promise. One elderly woman, for example, when finally visited by Priesthood authority, produced a stocking containing her tithing for the past 25 years. 

The Berlin Wall came down on November 9th, 1989 (Apr.’91 Ensign, p.26). The Saints in Czechoslovakia had spread the Gospel undercover during the 40 years the wall was up.  In 1989, when the missionaries were able to return, they didn’t have to tract because there was a huge group just waiting to be baptized.  As for the Saints in East Germany, within 27 years, everything President Monson (then Elder Monson) had promised had been received, including, in 1985, the dedication of the Freiberg Germany Temple – a temple behind the Berlin Wall!  The Freiberg temple was so busy that patrons had to make appointments to participate in an endowment session (Ibid., p.52).

 Freiburg, Germany Temple

"In 1843, just 13 years after the Church's organization, Church President Joseph Smith called two men to preach in Russia. This assignment was canceled after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844. In 1895, a native of Sweden was sent to St. Petersburg, where he baptized the Johan M. Lindelof family. The family was occasionally visited by Church leaders in the early 1900s. In 1959, Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, simultaneously serving as United States Secretary of Agriculture, visited the Central Baptist Church in Moscow and preached to an attentive congregation.

"In September 1989, Church leaders authorized a United States Embassy worker in Russia to begin holding group meetings in his apartment. Four months later, in January 1990, missionaries arrived in Leningrad. The first convert they baptized also became the first full-time missionary from Russia, who served in the Utah Ogden Mission. In February 1990, a congregation was organized in Vyborg. By mid-summer 1990, the Leningrad congregation, created in December 1989, had 100 members, and the Vyborg congregation had 25 members. In September, the St. Petersburg congregation was recognized by the government and in October a religious freedom law was passed. With membership in Russia at 750 in February 1992, two other Russian missions were organized.

"In June 1991, the Tabernacle Choir received publicity 'beyond its wildest expectations' as it performed in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). The choir recorded songs later broadcast to a potential audience of 339 million. In May 1991, the Church was officially recognized by Russia."  However proselyting missionaries were no longer allowed in Russia in 2016 due to anti-terrorism laws in that country and statistics are no longer available.

There are 11 congregations and a mission in Armenia with 3,500 members.  In great measure, Armenia was opened to the church because of the great efforts of LDS member Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., who built a concrete factory there which was staffed with LDS service missionaries and local Armenians to build safe homes after the devastating earthquake of 1988 which killed 50,000 people and left half a million homeless.  The first member of the church was baptized in 1992, and the church was registered in Armenia in 1995.

Middle East
And what is left?

In the First Presidency Message delivered by President Spencer W. Kimball in July 1979, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is brooding over the nations to prepare the way for the preaching of the Gospel.”

In the Middle East there are 4 congregations in Israel with 300 active members including BYU students and embassy workers (see reader comment below), 365 members in Kuwait, 245 members in Bahrain, 1,699 in United Arab Emirates including a stake center. 

 The stake center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
has a dome instead of a steeple, to fit
with local architecture.  Services are conducted on
Fridays, the Sabbath observed in that country.

The BYU Jerusalem Center is NOT a proselyting center, but an educational institution. It is presently closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no intention for the Jerusalem Center to ever become a temple or a mission home as such would be in direct violation with the Church's agreement with the government.

 BYU Jerusalem Center
Picture from Wikipedia

Music Video Finale
Here is a fun video on the growth of the Church from 1820-2017.

Some of the information about missionary work around the world came from the video “An Ensign to the Nations.”
All current statistics come from


Anonymous said...

Nancy, this might seem like an odd question, but can you tell me what the reference you refer to as
HC 1:74-79 is actually called? I should probably know it, but well.... I don't and I would love to research that reference myself. Side note: I LOVE your blogs. They are a life saver for me.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thanks for asking. I wouldn't have known it myself when I was younger. It is History of the Church, a 7-volume set written by Joseph Smith's scribes and now published by Deseret Book.

Anonymous said...

There is a video on the church web site about the organization of the church it just is not the same one you link to on you tube, it is a newer video.

Cynthia said...

Thank you! I especially enjoyed the stories about the early saints around the world.

CarlH said...

I'm sure I wasn't the only one caught off guard by this announcment in February:

Stake center in Abu Dhabi: Elder Holland dedicates chapel in Middle East

There has been quiet progress in the Middle East over many years. Here's a report (undated, sadly) about an earlier visit by Elder Holland to the Middle East (2009, I think) in which he refers to the creation of the Arabian Peninsula Stake 28 years (!!) earlier:

Members in Middle East Reminded to Obey, Honor, and Sustain Law

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic resource. Thank you so much for all your effort and generosity. For lesson 9, I'm planning to show the youtube clip of the growth of the stakes. It is short and extremely moving to see the Gospel start so small and spread across the earth. With the background of the Tabernacle Choir singing "The Spirit of God", I get teary every time I see this.

Anonymous said...

As a follow up to my last comment, I'm also thinking about showing this clip on the organization of the church that lasts 1:24. It doesn't go into as much detail as the one you posted but if you're running short on time (which I always am) this gives a feeling of the Spirit that was present.

Becca Barlow said...

I wanted to take a moment to thank-you for this blog. I am a gospel doctrine teacher and have found so much insight through your comments. I appreciate all the hard work and effort you have put in. You are blessing others lives and I wanted you to know that.

Unknown said...

Hi! I also teach Gospel Doctrine and I love the stories about the growth of the church around the world. Do you have a source for the story about Patona Roa in New Zealand?

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Robert, thank you so much for pointing out that I was missing the source. I have now inserted it into the body of the post.

Diane Fish said...

I have family who are members in Israel. There is 1 district comprised of 4 branches: Galilee, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem. On paper there are about 200 local members. In reality there are maybe 30 active members (not counting BYU students and embassy workers).

James said...

I am curious about your info on the church in Asia. Is the first part of the paragraph about China specifically? Where did that info come from? Also I think there is a typo in this line: (In 1959, there were 102 missionaries. 112 of them were local.) 112 out of 102? Great info though. Thank you very much.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

James, I'm pretty sure that the information came from the video, "An Ensign to the Nations." That's probably why it's vague about which part of Asia. I think, however, that I will update this with accessible sources so that readers can easily find the references online. And I'm pretty sure you are also correct about the typo, haha!