Issue #9 - November 2002
Branches, Conferences, and Districts
What is the destiny of the Restoration Branch Movement? The first Restoration Branch was formed in 1984 called the Independence Branch and is still viable today. Since that day there has been a proliferation of independent branches. These branches have preached the gospel and practiced the ordinances in an attempt to keep the restored gospel vibrant by offering succor to the disenfranchised saints. The independent branch movement while offering many blessing to the saints in exile, has also fostered the liberty for each branch to deviate from the traditional teachings of the Reorganization. The saints have also been courted by other organizations which have emerged such as the High Priest's Assembly, the Elder's Conference, and the Committee for Unity, as well as several schematic groups which have organized the higher quorums and testify they have been directed to reorder the church. Such fragmentation has also strengthened the efforts of some in the evangelical community such as the X-RLDS for Jesus to lure our people away from the angel message. It is in the midst of this conundrum that the youth of the latter-day work have been reared. Joseph the Seer declared that the day would come when "the daughters of Jesus will become beautiful, and her sons the joy of the whole earth."1 Nearly every branch has its complement of youngsters; some have more than others. What is the future? Are our young people being converted to the everlasting gospel? Is there sufficient attraction to keep them in the fold and to enable them to receive the baton of the latter-day evangel?
These Restoration Branches have been formed according to law. They have been defined as "the primary and congregational organizations of the Church, and may be formed whenever six or more members in good standing may be resident in any one neighborhood, one of whom must be an Elder, Priest, Teacher or Deacon."2 Conferences have traditionally been defined as "secondary organizations of the church".3 In the Reorganization district conferences were historically defined as "regular assemblies authorized by the General Conference or by the common consent of two or more branches lying in close proximity". Stakes, on the other hand, are a more permanent organization and are brought into existence through revelation and General Conference action,4 and they are therefore beyond the ability of the saints to presently pursue. Just as the independent branches have lawfully come into existence, (being divinely lead to govern their own affairs) the same authority that allowed for the formation of branches also permits the creation of joint conferences and districts. The Restoration Branches in the center place need to consider the benefits of lawful organization. The primary objective of a district is to be pastoral in its ministry to a larger body of saints than could be reached under branch organization. Restoration saints, meeting in joint conferences, could accomplish many things including the hiring of a full time youth minister to ensure that the counsel of the Seer is realized among our youth. Have we maintained our natural increase? Is there any stewardship more important than the raising of our youth under divine approbation? With hundreds of young people fellowshipping and worshiping together under competent and dynamic leadership, they not only have a greater probability to be won to the church, but now they offer an attraction to their peers. There are hundreds of youth in the center place that meet in the Community of Christ and elsewhere who can be attracted to our message through such an effort. Additionally, a district birthed from a conference of branches would not only bless the youth and unify the saints, but it could buttress the missionary work by supporting men in the field, publishing literature, holding reunions, and meeting for quarterly sacrament services, and developing an orchestra and choir as well as governing itself. The confidence the saints would have in the eldership would be enlarged, and the elders would be blessed with a greater mantel of respect and authority. The saints would also be permitted to take an active role in the legislative assemblies as previously practiced in the church.5 In order to do so, these several branches would be required to be subject to the same requirements that have always existed in the Reorganization. The district would be subject to the rules and resolutions of the church that were extant prior to the more egregious errors that were introduced into the fabric of the church, and of course the scriptures.
If independent branches claim to be a continuation of the Reorganization, the laws of continuity require that they flow from the same stream. To be legitimate they must adopt the same laws, rules, policies, positions, doctrines, ordinances, and books of scripture. A trend exists in the Restoration Branches to replace the Doctrine and Covenants with the Book of Commandments and the 1908 edition with the Restored Covenant Edition of the Book of Mormon. I believe each of these books should be available to the saints, and they may be used is without question, but to make them the "official" or "authorized" scriptures of the latter-day church undermines the heritage, tradition, and continuity of the beliefs of the Reorganization.
We presently do not know who the next "Prophet" is going to be. We do know, however, that he will come from the chosen seed to whom the promises were made.6 We also know who presently occupies this position, Wallace B. Smith. As long as he lives only he can name the rightful successor to the presidency of the high priesthood. We should, therefore, pray for him, that he might yet perform his divinely appointed duty. I believe this would be the greatest work for which a confederation of exiled branches could jointly meet to accomplish.
1Times and Seasons Vol. 3:801
2A Manual of Practice and Rules of Order and Debate for Deliberative Assemblies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1891, p. 9. See also Articles of Incorporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1872, Article 1.
4D&C 117:11 and 125:10
5The History of The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 2:209, 211