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D&C 21| Background & Context
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Date: 6 April 1830

Place: Fayette, New York

Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion

On Tuesday, 6 April 1830, about fifty people crowded into Peter Whitmer's log home near Fayette, New York. To satisfy the New York State requirement for founding a new religious society, six men officially signed the certificate of incorportation: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Samuel H. Smith, and David Whitmer. After an opening prayer, the group unanimously voted to organize the Church and to accept Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as first and second elders, respectively. Joseph and Oliver then ordained one another to these offices. After the congregation had partaken of the sacrament, Joseph and Oliver laid hands on all who had previously been baptized, confirming them members of the new Church and bestowing upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Largey, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, p.730, (2012), © Deseret Book Company. Used by Permission.)

Joseph Smith (President)

[We] made known to our brethren that we had received a commandment to organize the Church; and accordingly we met together for that purpose, at the house of Mr. Peter Whitmer, Sen., (being six in number,) on Tuesday, the sixth day of April, A. D., one thousand eight hundred and thirty. Having opened the meeting by solemn prayer to our Heavenly Father, we proceeded, according to previous commandment, to call on our brethren to know whether they accepted us as their teachers in the things of the Kingdom of God, and whether they were satisfied that we should proceed and be organized as a Church according to said commandment which we had received. To these several propositions they consented by a unanimous vote. I then laid my hands upon Oliver Cowdery, and ordained him an Elder of the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints;" after which, he ordained me also to the office of an Elder of said Church. We then took bread, blessed it, and brake it with them; also wine, blessed it, and drank it with them. We then laid our hands on each individual member of the Church present, that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ. The Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very great degree—some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord, and rejoiced exceedingly. Whilst yet together, I received the following commandment: [D&C 21]. (History of the Church, 1:74-78; see also History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]; josephsmithpapers.org)

From Revelations in Context at history.lds.org

Many of those who accepted [D&C 18] awaited the organization of a church. About this time, Joseph Smith announced a revelation specifying the day that church should be organized. At last the day arrived, on April 6, 1830. Forty or fifty men and women gathered in the small Fayette home of Peter Whitmer Sr. to observe the event. Six of them—Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and four others—served as the official organizers.

They “opened the meeting by solemn prayer.” Joseph and Oliver asked the other four official members if they would accept them as their spiritual teachers, and whether they should proceed to organize the Church. Joseph was 24, Oliver 23. Having the consent of the assembled believers, Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery an elder in the Church and Oliver did the same for Joseph.

With authorized men called, sustained, and ordained, it was possible for the Church to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. “We then took bread, blessed it, and brake it with them, also wine, blessed it, and drank it with them.” After the sacrament, Joseph Smith’s history records, “We then laid our hands on each individual member of the Church present that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ. The Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very great degree. Some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord and rejoiced exceedingly.”

That same day, “Whilst yet together” for the organizational meeting, Joseph Smith received another revelation. Now Doctrine and Covenants 21, the revelation instructed the newly formed church that “there Shall a Record be kept among you” in which Joseph Smith would be known as a “seer & Translater & Prop[h]et an Apostle of Jesus Christ an Elder of the Church” (see D&C 21:1). Oliver Cowdery, acting in his role as apostle and elder, was to perform the ordination. Though Oliver was designated the church’s “second elder,” the April 6 revelation also designated him the “first preacher,” an office he filled by preaching the church’s first public sermon on April 11. (“Build Up My Church,” Revelations in Context, history.lds.org)

Joseph Knight, Sr.

On the sixth Day of April 1830 he began the Church with six members and received the following [D&C 21]. They all kneeled down and prayed and Joseph gave them instructions how to build up the Church and exorted them to be faithful in all things for this is the work of God. ("Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," BYU Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1; spelling modernized; online version)


Aftermath and Outcomes of D&C 21

Steven C. Harper (LDS Scholar)

As a result of Doctrine and Covenants 21, Joseph kept records, wrote histories, and collected documents that testify to his callings as seer, translator, prophet, and apostle of Jesus Christ. The Church continues to obey this mandate, not least by sponsoring the massive and painstaking process of collecting, editing, and publishing the papers of Joseph Smith. No church has ever had a greater sense of its history and destiny than the restored Church of Jesus Christ. This inspires record keeping.

Section 21 restored the Church of Jesus Christ. After nearly two millennia, duly authorized apostles are ordained and assigned by Jesus Christ to lead his Church. Many men and women have "wished," as one wrote, "I had lived in the days of the prophets or apostles, that I could have sure guides." Others looked forward, waiting for the Lord to send new apostles. Those hopes were realized on April 6, 1830. In sum, as Joseph put it, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded upon direct revelation, as the true church of God has ever been, according to the scriptures."

Section 21 gives order to the Church of Jesus Christ, who gives commandments to Joseph and makes Joseph responsible to give them to the Saints. The Lord appoints Oliver to preside over the Saints, Joseph over Oliver, and himself over Joseph. The Saints' role in the Church is to "give heed" (v. 4) to his apostles as they give heed to him, and to "labor in my vineyard" (v. 9). This is the order of the Church established in section 21. Having implemented it, Joseph said that afterward he and the others present enjoyed "a happy time spent in witnessing and feeling for ourselves the powers and the blessings of the Holy Ghost, through the grace of God bestowed upon us." For the first time in more than a millennium, a meeting of Saints "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."

A decade had passed since Joseph, distressed by his family's religious divisions, went into the grove, where he saw Heavenly Father and Christ and asked them which church he should join. "None of them," came the answer. They all denied God's power to speak, to call new apostles, to guide his church by revelation. The evening after he organized the Church, having witnessed his father's baptism, Joseph went into the woods to pray alone. Overwhelmed, Joseph poured out his heart to his Heavenly Father. A literal fulfillment of verse 8 followed. "His joy seemed to be full," wrote Father Knight. "I think he saw the grate work he had Begun and was Desirus to Carry it out." (Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants, p., (2008), © Deseret Book Company. Used by Permission.)

Joseph Knight, Sr.

There was one thing I will mention [about] that evening that old Brother Smith and Martin Harris was baptized. Joseph was filled with Spirit to a great degree to see his father and Mr Harris [whom] he had been with so much, he burst out with grief and joy and seemed as though the world could not hold him. He went out into the lot and appeared to want to get out of sight of everybody and would sob and cry and seemed to be so full that he could not live. Oliver and I went after him and came to him and after a while he came in. But he was the most wrought upon that I ever saw any man. But his joy seemed to be full. I think he saw the great work he had begun and was desirous to carry it out. ("Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," BYU Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1; spelling modernized; online version)