Images of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt to the promised land captivated me as a child. That is one of the first stories in the Old Testament I really remember. Scenes of Moses preparing the people to sanctify their hearts but, instead, the people fearfully requested for Moses just to speak to God for them, or when a group of the people sinned and unleashed a plague through the whole camp deeply impacted my little mind. The stories of the golden calf, hidden treasure, and immoral men taught me that the decisions and actions of individuals totally impacted the whole.

 

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As I’ve studied the Doctrine and Covenants this past school year as a seminary teacher, I’ve viewed the Saints’ ups and downs through my lens of Moses and his people. I usually read the restoration stories from the perspective of ancestral journals. My ancestors suffered extreme persecution with many of the Saints trying to build up Zion. While I knew that apostates murmured and dissented, I hadn’t internalized specific stories leading to disruptions of Joseph’s people trying to reach the promised land.

Contention in The Church

 

The Lord warned against contention in the fledgling Church early in its inception. He constantly warned that Satan wanted to destroy the work and his best effort would come from infighting.

 

And this I do that I may establish my gospel, that there may not be so much contention; yea, Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention concerning the points of my doctrine; and in these things they do err, for they do wrest the scriptures and do not understand them.

 

Some other advisories against contention included strong warnings in Sections 95 and 101.

 

Doctrine and Covenants 95:10-12’s warning came during a revelation commanding the Saints to build a temple in Kirtland and condemning the doctrinal contention in the School of the Prophets.

 

Nevertheless, my servants sinned a very grievous sin; and contentions arose in the school of the prophets; which was very grievous unto me, saith your Lord; therefore I sent them forth to be chastened.

 

Verily I say unto you, it is my will that you should build a house. If you keep my commandments you shall have power to build it.

 

If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness.

 

Doctrine and Covenants 101:1-7’s warning came as Saints faced growing persecutions in Missouri caused in some part by contention, seeking revenge, and apostasy.

 

Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance—

 

I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;

 

Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.

 

Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.

 

For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.

 

Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.

 

They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.

 

So what happened? Following are a few examples of contention afflicting the early Church.

 

Contention Attempted to Depose the Prophet Joseph

 

Brigham Young Mormon

Brigham Young, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during this uncertain period, remembered a meeting at which some Church members [including other Apostles] were discussing how to depose the Prophet Joseph [and install David Whitmer as head]: “I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased, [but] they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God; they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God, and sink themselves to hell. Many were highly enraged at my decided opposition to their measures. …

 

“This meeting was broken up without the apostates being able to unite on any decided measures of opposition. This was a crisis when earth and hell seemed leagued to overthrow the Prophet and Church of God. The knees of many of the strongest men in the Church faltered. During this siege of darkness I stood close by Joseph, and with all the wisdom and power God bestowed upon me, put forth my utmost energies to sustain the servant of God and unite the quorums of the Church.”

Apostate Takeover of the Kirtland Temple

 

Before Joseph Smith left Kirtland, a group of apostates had taken control of the temple. The Lord referred to these men as “moneychangers,” like those who had polluted the temple grounds in Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:12–13). Even after this happened, the Lord wanted His servants “in the land of Kirtland” to remember the holiness of the temple.

Nicolaitane Band Became A Mob

 

Doctrine and Covenants 117:11 references a Nicolaitane band.

 

Let my servant Newel K. Whitney be ashamed of the Nicolaitane band and of all their secret abominations…

 

Nicolaitane band? I read stories of this band of men determined to seek revenge against Missourian persecutions against their community. They met in secret and acted as a mob against members of the Missourian community.

 

One Bible scholar wrote the following about the beliefs of the Nicolaitans: “They seem to have held that it was lawful to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication, in opposition to the decree of the Church rendered in Acts 15:20, 29. … In a time of persecution, when the eating or not eating of things sacrificed to idols was more than ever a crucial test of faithfulness, they persuaded men more than ever that it was a thing indifferent. Rev. 2:13, 14. This was bad enough, but there was a yet worse evil. Mingling themselves in the orgies of idolatrous feasts, they brought the impurities of those feasts into the meetings of the Christian Church. And all this was done, it must be remembered, not simply as an indulgence of appetite, but as a part of a system, supported by a ‘doctrine,’ accompanied by the boast of a prophetic illumination.” (Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, p. 447)

 

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that Nicolaitans today are “members of the Church who [are] trying to maintain their church standing while continuing to live after the manner of the world. … The designation has come to be used to identify those who want their names on the records of the Church, but do not want to devote themselves to the gospel cause with full purpose of heart.”

Betrayal Preceded Liberty Jail

 

[O]n October 31, 1838, George Hinkle, a member of the Church and a colonel in Missouri’s state militia, betrayed Joseph Smith. Hinkle told Joseph Smith that members of the Missouri militia, who had attacked the Saints in Far West, Missouri, wanted to meet for an interview to settle disagreements peacefully. When Joseph and other Church leaders arrived for the interview, the militia took them forcefully as prisoners of war. For the next month, Joseph Smith and his associates were abused and insulted, as their enemies imprisoned them in Independence, Missouri, and Richmond, Missouri. While still awaiting trial, which was based on false accusations and which was done without due process, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were moved to a jail in Liberty, Missouri, on December 1.

Two Apostles Set the Scene for the Extermination Order

 

orson hydeThomas B. Marsh, the President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and Orson Hyde, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, let small contentions fester into apostasy.

 

Both of these men signed an affidavit (a sworn statement) falsely accusing Joseph Smith and other Church members of planning to drive their enemies out by burning and destroying their property. This affidavit influenced the governor of Missouri to issue a statement, known as the extermination order, declaring that all Mormons must be exterminated or driven from the state.

 

These are just a few examples amongst many of how the contention among members of the Church wreaked havoc on their brothers and sisters.

 

Hold On Thy Way

 

 Wherefore, lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all, that ye may be able to stand.

 

Despite rampant contention, envying, strife, and persecution, those who trusted God became sanctified. Even in a crucible, the Lord promised the trials shall be for our good.

 

And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

 

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

 

Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.

 

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland promised that even those dark nights of the soul instigated by the influences of others can yield experience with the Lord.

 

You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.

 

Of his four months in Liberty Jail, Hyrum Smith thanked God for his determination to remain true. Hyrum saw contention’s viral influence on the Church and his family, and he chose to hold to his testimony of Jesus Christ.

 

I was innocent of crime, and . . . I had been dragged from my family at a time when my assistance was most needed; . . . I had been abused and thrust into a dungeon, and confined for months on account of my faith, and the “testimony of Jesus Christ.” However, I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to, wherever my lot had been cast.

 

As the Lord established His church with the Nephites (who proceeded to become a Zion people) he acknowledged their disputations and commanded them to cease contention. They’d disputed against doctrine. The Lord promised that they would not need to argue about doctrine because He would declare His doctrine.

 

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And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.

 

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

 

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

 

Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.

 

Like He did for Moses and the children of Israel and the Nephites, the Lord will continue declaring His doctrine to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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About Delisa Hargrove
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have moved 64 times and have not tired of experiencing this beautiful earth! I love the people, languages, histories/anthropologies, & especially religious cultures of the world. My life long passion is the study & searching out of religious symbolism, specifically related to ancient & modern temples. My husband Anthony and I love our bulldog Stig, adventures, traveling, movies, motorcycling, and time with friends and family.

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