Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)

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BickertoniteChurch.jpg
The Church of Jesus Christ's historic chapel in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.

The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) is an organization officially titled The Church of Jesus Christ with Headquarters in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Its members are sometimes referred to as Bickertonites or members of the Bickerton organization. The church also calls itself "The Church." Although unaffiliated with any other church, the Bickertonites are a denomination of the Latter Day Saint or (Mormon) Restoration movement. Generally considered the third largest of the denominations resulting from the 1844 succession crisis, the Church has members in North, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa for an approximate total of 7,000 worldwide.

The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) claims to be the spiritual successor to the "Church of Christ," organized by Joseph Smith, Jr. on April 6, 1830. The Church considers Smith to have been a prophet and a seer, but does not view him as the "choice seer" predicted by the Book of Mormon. The Church is still awaiting the coming of the "choice seer" who will be of Native American heritage and who many of the faithful believe is alive today (though his identity is not yet revealed to the world).

Contents

History

The Church of Jesus Christ shares its early history with the larger The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and the Community of Christ churches. After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1844, the Latter Day Saint movement experienced a succession crisis. The only surviving member of the Church's highest ruling body, the First Presidency, was the First Counselor of the Church, Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon had been an early and important convert to the movement and had been a partner in the First Presidency since its organization. Smith had been running as an independent candidate for the U.S. Presidency at the time of his death, with Sidney Rigdon as his vice presidential candidate. Many members presumed that Rigdon would assume control of the large body of the Church at its headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois. Rigdon, however, was opposed by an inner circle of Latter Day Saints who were secretly practicing polygamy or "plural marriage". This faction, led by Brigham Young, succeeded in replacing the First Presidency of the Church with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by a vote of a large, assembled congregation.

Rigdon did not consider this vote lawful and he moved from Nauvoo to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he reorganized a faction of the movement, which became known as the Church of Christ (Rigdonite). Many important Latter Day Saints who originally backed Rigdon eventually broke with him, some joining other factional leaders such as James J. Strang, Lyman Wight, and eventually Joseph Smith Jr.'s son, Joseph Smith III. Rigdon himself retired from active service and went to live out his old age with relatives in New York.

A core group of Rigdonites remained in the Pennsylvania area throughout the 1850s. These members were opposed to plural marriage which was being practiced openly by the two largest church organizations, Brigham Young's church in the Utah Territory and James J. Strang's church in Lake Michigan.

At a conference in Green Oak, Pennsylvania in July of 1862, leaders of several branches in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia came together and organized The Church of Jesus Christ. Elder William Bickerton (ordained an Apostle by Sidney Rigdon) presided over the conference and was called "a Seer, a Translator, a Prophet, and Apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." Bickerton's two counselors were George Barnes and Charles Brown who were also Apostles. The members of the Quorum of the Twelve (ordered by seniority) were Arthur Bickerton, Thomas Bickerton, Alexander Bickerton, James Brown, Cummings Cherry, Benjamin Meadowcroft, Joseph Astin, Joseph Knox, William Cadman, James Nichols, John Neish and John Dixon. At the conference George Barnes reported receiving the "word of the Lord," which he related:

"Here the word of the Lord; Ye are my Sons and Daughters, and I have committed unto you the Keys of the Kingdom, therefore be ye faithful."

The Church was incorporated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in June of 1865 with the legal name, "Church of Jesus Christ of Green Oak, Pennsylvania." In order to operate legally outside the United States, the Church filed a new incorporation on April 5, 1941 with the legal name, "The Church of Jesus Christ with headquarters at Monongahela, Pennsylvania."

Organization of the Church

The Church of Jesus Christ views the prophetic office as not 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 Quorum of the Twelve and his two counselors also constitute the Presidency of the Church. Other officers of the Church include a first Quorum of Seventy Evangelists.

The Church maintains a publishing house and prints its own edition of the Book of Mormon. The edition follows the chapter and versification of found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' edition, but the headers and notes are unique. The Church of Jesus Christ was also the first Latter Day Saint group to publish an edition of the Book of Mormon translated into Italian.

The Church records revelations that are deemed valid and publishes them where appropriate, but these are not bound together in a single volume. Revelations may come from the Quorum of the Twelve singly or together or from individual members of the Church. The Church does not accept any edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as wholly valid, but it considers many revelations within it to be true. Generally, versions of these revelations found in the Book of Commandments are preferred to the altered versions found in the later book. The Church especially considers purported revelations relating to plural marriage, baptism for the dead and other Nauvoo-era practices to be spurious. In addition to the Book of Mormon, the Church accepts the King James Version of the Bible as scripture.

Today, the Church of Jesus Christ has a worldwide membership of about 7,000, with about 2,600 located in the United States. The Church continue to experience significant growth in comparison to some of the other smaller Latter Day Saint organizations, opening a number of new chapels in the eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania area within the last decade.

The Church publishes a monthly periodical called The Gospel News.

Doctrines and Practices

The Church of Jesus Christ has a good relationship with the smaller Church of Christ (Temple Lot). Both churches are distinct organizations, however, and independent of any other Latter Day Saint denominations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) with headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Bickertonites have long rejected plural marriage and believe that that this doctrine was never taught by Joseph Smith Jr. The Bickertonite view of the nature of God also differs from that of Utah Mormons and more closely resembles the view held by the Community of Christ.

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

In services, members of the church do not prepare sermons prior to the meeting. Instead, members believe that they speak under the inspiration of Jesus Christ, allowing the Spirit to direct their words. Each week, church services begin with 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."

Chapels of the church contain neither altars nor crosses or even pictures. The church does not recognize any special religious holidays — instead serving God and following Jesus is a "365 day per year activity."

The offices of the priesthood in the church are:

Although women may serve as deaconesses, only men may become elders in the church. Deacons (and deaconesses) prepare the communion tables and set up chairs and prepare the chapel for meetings. Elders are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the church. Church elders are never referred to as "Father" or "Reverend." Elders and all church officials, including the Church Presidency and Quorum of Apostles are volunteers and are not compensated for their activities monetarily. Elders sometimes administer to the sick through the "laying on of hands," using oil if the illness is physical. According to the doctrine of the church, Elders are called to their positions by revelation.

In the sacrament or communion, the church uses bread and wine, representing the body and blood Christ sacrificed. The communion is administered only to the dutiful, baptized members of the church. Church members also follow the ordinance of "feet washing" four times a year as a demonstration of personal humility. Church members always greet each other with a "holy kiss" (following New Testament precedents).

The church practices baptism by immersion and then laying on of hands by the elders for the reception of the Holy Ghost or Spirit.

Members of the church believe in "speaking in tongues" where one member speaks what they believe is an unknown language. Another member then gives what they believe to be the inspired interpretation of that language. Members also "speak with the Spirit" and give what they consider revelations using the phrase, "thus saith the Lord."

The Church believes that hymns are often revealed through divine workings. Some songs in the Church's principle songbook, Saints Hymnal, are of this nature. The entire contents of a second hymnal, Songs of Zion, are believed to have come through this revelatory gift through a single member of the Church. After a silent period of some 15 years, she reported that she began to receive revealed songs again in 2004. The songs are quite beautiful; some believe them to have been sung by the Nephite nation.

References

  • W. H. Cadman, A History of the Church of Jesus Christ, Monongahela, PA: 1945.
  • Jerry Valenti, "Welcome to The Church of Jesus Christ," The Gospel News, Vol. 56, No. 9, Sept. 2000.

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