Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Assistant and the Key




Assistant President of the Church (also referred to as Associate President of the Church) was a position in the leadership hierarchy in the early days of the Latter Day Saint church instated by revelation through Joseph Smith, Jr. The Assistant President was the second-highest authority in the church and was a member of the church's governing First Presidency. After Joseph Smith’s death, Latter Day Saints discontinued the position of Assistant President of the Church.

Oliver Cowdery


On December 5, 1834, Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery to be his "assistant-president". The minutes of this meeting state that Joseph Smith said the following words after laying his hands on Cowdery's head:
In the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified for the sins of the world, I lay my hands upon thee and ordain thee an assistant-president to the High and Holy Priesthood, in the Church of the Latter-day Saints."

At the organization of the church in 1830 , Cowdery had been designated the "second elder" of the church. After Joseph Smith organized the First Presidency in 1832, Cowdery's standing in the church hierarchy had become uncertain. Cowdery's ordination as Assistant President reaffirmed his status as second only to Joseph in church authority.

After Cowdery's ordination, Joseph explained the purpose of the position of Assistant President:
The office of Assistant President is to assist in presiding over the whole Church, and to officiate in the absence of the President, according to his rank and appointment .... The office of this priesthood is also to act as spokesman, taking Aaron for an example. The virtue of the above priesthood is to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven or of the Church militant.

As holder of the keys of the priesthood, the Assistant President of the Church was intended to be the person who would succeed to the presidency of the church upon the death of the Prophet Joesph Smith. The Assistant President ranked higher than the counselors in the First Presidency and the President and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Like the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve, the Assistant President was accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

Hyrum Smith



On April 11, 1838, Cowdery was excommunicated from the church and thereby lost his position as Assistant President. The position went unfilled until January 25, 1841, when Hyrum Smith was ordained to be the Assistant President. This was done in accordance with a revelation that was received on January 19, which stated:

And from this time forth I appoint unto him [Hyrum] that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph; That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery.

Hyrum Smith remained Assistant President of the Church until he and Joseph were killed on June 27, 1844. The death of both the President of the Church and his supposed successor, the Assistant President, helped contribute to the leadership confusion among the Latter Day Saints which led to the succession crisis of 1844. In most of the separate denominations that resulted from the crisis, the position of Assistant President of the Church was discontinued.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the lack of a current Assistant President of the Church has been explained in the following way:
After Oliver Cowdery fell from his high status, Hyrum Smith the Patriarch was chosen by revelation to succeed to the position of Assistant President and to stand as a joint witness with the Prophet [Joseph Smith] of the truth of the restoration. ... When these two joint Presidents of the Church sealed their testimonies with their blood, the full operation of the keys of the kingdom rested with the Twelve, and Brigham Young, the senior apostle, became the ranking officer of the Church. Since the kingdom was then fully established and the two witnesses had left a binding testimony, it was no longer necessary to continue the office of Assistant President. Accordingly, the office is not found in the Church today.

D&C 124: 94-96
94 And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph;
95 That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery;
96 That my servant Hyrum may bear record of the things which I shall show unto him, that his name may be had in honorable remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever.
Hyrum acted as President of the Church in Joseph's absence and was designated to be Joseph's successor if he were killed or incapacitated. Among early Church leaders, no one stands higher than Hyrum Smith save it be, The Prophet himself. Hyrum was Joseph Smith's closest confidante and advisor, the Second Elder in the Church and Patriarch to the Church. He was an Apostle. He held every right, key, power, and authority which Joseph held, and had it been the will of the Lord that Hyrum should have survived Joseph; Hyrum would have become the Presiding High Priest in the Church. He received every key, every power, and every authority held by his brother Joseph. Indeed, had he survived Joseph, Hyrum would have unquestionably succeeded him.

The Key



However, and fortunately, the twelve had previously been given all the keys and were properly charged to carry out the work if Joseph and Hyrum should die. This was done during the many meetings and sessions with the Prophet and Hyrum leading up to the last charge meeting on March 26th 1844. Joseph rolled off the responsibility to the twelve. He declared that he had now given them every priesthood key that he possessed and that it was their responsibility to shoulder the burden of the kingdom while he rested. Before they returned from the East, the two were murdered. In that last charge meeting, he (Joseph) said, “I will give you a key that will never rust. (meaning it will always work and stay true) Always go with the majority of the twelve and the records of the church.” No other denomination or break off can claim that except The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We have the key that does not rust.





The majority of the twelve held the keys and in due time they reorganized the first presidency with Brigham Young as Prophet and President. The work goes on still today with that same organization and authority passed down from prophets and apostles of The Lord Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Colin C said...

Wow, really interesting stuff! Lots of interesting stuff on the blog lately. Do you get many readers?