The Creation and Birth of the Lord's Church

by John P. Pratt

Reprinted from Meridian Magazine (8 Apr 2011).
©2011 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

Index, Home

1. Creation Process
1.1 Bootstrapping A Computer
1.2 Life
2. Creating the Church
2.1 The Spark
2.2 The DNA
2.3 One Becomes Two
2.4 Physical and Spiritual Priesthoods
2.5 Unborn Body of the Church Grows
2.6 The Breath of Life: The Holy Ghost
3. Conclusion
The Lord's true Church was restored according to eternal patterns and order. The detailed procedure was similar to the creation and birth of all life, testifying of its authenticity.

How could the true Church of Jesus Christ be started from scratch? There are lots of tricky start-up questions to answer, such as, "If the leaders need to preside with the consent of the members, how does one get any members at all of a church that doesn't exist yet to give their consent?" This article looks at some of those creation questions and concludes that the way that the Lord and the angels told Joseph Smith to do it was way more clever than an unschooled youth could have figured out. Let's begin by considering how anything is created, and then apply that process to the Church.

1. The Creation Process

How is anything created? Volumes could be written about that, but consider this brief overview. There are usually at least two or three steps, depending on whether or not it is a "living" entity. Let's consider creating an automobile.

1. Spiritual Creation. Step 1 is to make a plan, to create a design, to think it out in your mind. This step can be considered a "spiritual creation" of a sort. When it is done there are often blueprints or diagrams or artist's conceptions of what it will look like and how it will work. Some people like to divide this step into parts such as thinking, then visualizing, and then verbalizing the steps. Other people skip this step entirely and it is pretty obvious when they do.

2. Physical Creation. Step 2 is to take physical materials and build the invention. This is where the potter takes the clay and fashions it into the vessel he has in mind. For the car, it entails the entire process of building the whole car, until it comes off the assembly line. If the item is just a pot or something that is inanimate, then we might be able to stop with just the two steps. But if it is to move around, like an automobile, then we need one more step.

Receiving the Breath of Life.
3. Breath of Life. Step 3, required for living creatures, is to breathe into it some life. If it is a pair of pliers, then a living person needs to pick them up and use them. If it is an automobile, then a person needs to get inside and drive it. When the car is seen driving around from a distance, it looks like the car has life by itself, but it is really being driven by something living inside. To move about and to "live" , it needs the breath of life.

Now let's focus on the "breath of life" step more and consider what needs to be done to get a creation started functioning. One class of start-up problems has to do with how to start a process that has two parts, where each part needs to be already working in order for the other process to function. For the following reason, let's call those problems "bootstrapping."

1.1 Bootstrapping A Computer

You are most likely reading this article using a computer. With any luck you just turned it on and it started up by itself so automatically that you didn't need to think about how that happened. You are probably familiar with the term to "reboot" the computer when it needs to be restarted. Let's talk about "booting" a computer, and one technical problem that needed to be solved in order to do it. This will relate to a very similar start-up problem that needed to be solved to properly start the Church functioning.

A computer consists of two parts, software and hardware. They are like "spiritual" and "physical". That is, the hardware is the physical chips and electronics, the part we can see. The software is the set of instructions that tells the computer what to do and how to behave. When both are working together the computer appears to be "smart" (on the good days) and to "live". But we've all seen computers crash and "die". Now let's consider what has to happen to get hardware and software (physical and spiritual) working together.

Try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
Suppose we have the computer built and all of the software instructions written. Here's the big creation question that needs to be answered to get the computer started. How do you install the software instructions on a hardware computer when an already working software system needs to be running on the hardware in order to install the software? In other words, a computer cannot run without first loading software but it must already be running before any software can be loaded. That's a tricky problem, isn't it? It was because that seemed as impossible as "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" that the solution became known as "bootstrapping", or "booting" for short.

This author is old enough to remember how we booted the computer that operated the university telescope, back when the world was very young. The computer had 16 switches on the front. We would set all sixteen of those (hardware) switches to a certain pattern to form one (software) instruction for the computer to execute. That was like the first breathing of the breath of life into the computer. Once it had only a few of those instructions, when they were executed, the computer could then understand what to do. Those few instructions would lead to more, which involved loading the entire operating system.

So why are we talking about bootstrapping a computer? It is because the Lord needed to bootstrap his Church to get it running. How was that to be done? It turns out it is so important that there is a special office in the priesthood that includes the authority to bootstrap a new church into existence. Would you have thought of putting that into your "How to Start a Church" story? Would Joseph Smith have considered all of these technical start-up issues? But before looking at that, consider now creating real living things.

1.2 Life

Potter shaping the vessel.
How are living things created? Okay, so we don't know the process exactly, but let's look briefly at the little bit we think we understand. There are two halves to all living creatures: spiritual and physical.

Without belaboring the point, it appears to be basically the same as just discussed. That is, first there is a spiritual creation. That is where God visualized the creature just the way he wanted it to be. Whether that involved sketches and computer simulations we are not told, but somehow the process ended up with what we call a "spirit".

Second is the physical creation. Here God shapes a vessel of clay like the potter (Jer. 18:6). Without getting into what happened with Adam, let's consider the current process. The Master Potter simply grows the vessels! The process involves a great miracle: a spark of life is put into a single cell (which could be two halves of a cell which come together, as in male and female). That spark is similar to a first bootstrap program, with the software instructions for how the being is supposed to look and function, written into the DNA hardware. Then God empowers the one cell to grow and divide, producing more and more cells, until the "body" is ready to be "born". This is the process by which the physical body is created. It saves the Potter a lot of time to just grow the vessels.

Life enters the created body.
Third, the final step comes at "birth". Even though the physical body has been finished, in order for it to be "alive" more is needed. The "breath of life" enters the body, which includes the spirit that was created for it. (Let's not get into the question here of the spirit entering and trying out the body before birth, which of course it does, and is called "quickening".) If this breath of life does not enter, we have a "stillborn" birth. The being is born, but it is still, and lifeless. Notice that the process begins with spirit and ends with spirit. The first is the last and the last is the first.

There is actually a very important initial step that we just skipped over to simplify the process. But we need to consider it briefly. This is the step that some mystics get all excited about. It is where ONE becomes TWO. Whole volumes are written about this and some religions emphasize that everything is really one "unified" substance, and others believe in "duality" where there are two opposing forces, such as "good" and "evil" or "matter" and "spirit." This article started right out assuming the duality of matter and spirit, but the point needs to be made that technically one cannot start out with both physical and spiritual. They need to split apart from "one" to begin with.

If God's work and his glory is to bring to pass life, would we not expect His Church to be born in a similar manner? It solves those bootstrapping problems of getting a living entity started. So finally, now let's turn to creating the Church.

2. Creating the Church

The First Vision was the first spark of light.
The point of this article is that Whoever created the foundation of the L.D.S. Church thought of everything covered above and so much more! These words are merely trying to show that a lot more thought went into it than could have ever been thought of by a backwoods youth. Thank Goodness that the Lord chose someone who could learn to follow instructions precisely, such as who should ordain whom first, and that there should be a physical and a spiritual priesthood. So without us trying to be smart enough to figure out how it should be done, let's just review what was in fact done, and compare it to the above template of life.

2.1 The Spark

A miraculous spark of light was put into a youth named Joseph Smith. I'm not sure exactly when it happened or what the event was. Maybe it was when the idea first entered his heart to pray. Maybe it was at the First Vision, when he talked to Jesus personally. Maybe it was when the angel Moroni told him more details about his life's work. This is like the spark entering a single cell that would grow into the body of the Church.

2.2 The DNA

Does the body of the Church have DNA?
The Church would need a plan, a blueprint of the structure, and a description of the offices and the duties of the leaders. There would need to be instructions on how people join the body of the Church and also how they can leave it. These instructions are like the DNA which has the physical structure of the body encoded into it.

The written word of the scriptures seems to fill this role. The Bible contained a lot of information for a blueprint, but it was lacking detail. The New Testament, and especially the letters of Paul, were written to branches of the church that were already in existence.

The scriptures define the structure of the Church.
Part of the work of Joseph Smith was to bring to light the Book of Mormon, which included more of the blueprint of the Church of Christ in ancient America. Then future revelations would cover even more details on just how to organize the church. Those are found in the Doctrine and Covenants. The point here is that the scriptures include the blueprint of the spiritual creation of the Church.

2.3 John the Baptist: One Becomes Two

1. Joseph Smith
The Prophet Joseph Smith relates a very interesting occurrence of Fri 15 May 1829. It was the appearance of an angel who identified himself as John the Baptist. He restored the authority to baptize unto repentance for the remission of sins. It is the first ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Baptism is required for one to become a voting member of the body of Christ (the Church) even before that body is born. It is related to a cell of the body being purified and being "reborn" in a sense. That can occur in the unborn body during the gestation period. Of course, it can also apply after birth as well to new cells being added to the body.

2. Oliver Cowdery
Think about John the Baptist for a moment. Did he ever start a church? No, he did not. He baptized a lot of people and prepared them to receive Jesus, prophesying of Someone greater to come soon who would complete the process by baptizing them with fire and spirit. When those he baptized joined the church that Jesus started, did they have to be re-baptized?

The answer seems clearly to be that they did not. That is, John came to baptize people to be ready to receive Christ. For example, "And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John." (Luke 7:29). Jesus was bringing a higher law and his Church for those who had repented. The ritual purification of baptism was needed to join it, but the baptism of John was accepted for that purpose.

One becomes two.
An excellent example of this is found in the Book of Acts. When Paul was at Ephesus, he found some disciples who said they had received the baptism of John, but had never heard of the Holy Ghost. Paul then makes the point that if they really had received John's baptism, they would have known that the whole purpose was to receive the Holy Ghost later, so he doubted they had really received it. Thus he baptized them again before conferring the Holy Ghost upon them (Acts 19:1-7). The main point here is that if they had been able to convince Paul that they had received John's baptism, there would have been no need for re-baptism.

Two come from one.
Now for a nifty detail. When John the Baptist appeared, he did not just restore the authority to Joseph Smith alone. He restored it to him and his scribe Oliver Cowdery together, and at the very same time! The sculpture shown here of him putting one hand on each of their heads is accurate and significant. It was not just to have two witnesses, although that was important. It also seems to show that the bestowing of the authority to produce "cell division", allowing new people to be cleansed to become a member of the Lord's church, happened at the very instant of the first cell division in the yet unborn body of Christ! The sculptor of this statue read the account very carefully. John said, "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron ... " (D&C 13:1).

When is the last time you saw two men have the priesthood conferred on them at the same time, with one hand on each head? Has it ever happened except in this one "start-up" case? It was very much like one becoming two, like a cell division, with the division occurring right when the power to divide was being restored. Both men then baptized each other, and then ordained each other to the Aaronic Priesthood. Carefully following the instruction of John, Joseph baptized and also ordained Oliver first. The order of these rituals was clearly very important.

Afterward, there were two cells of the new body of Christ and each had the authority to add more cells to the body. Note that baptism is what is required for anyone to become a new cell, and the priesthood authority is what is required to prepare and cleanse them to be able to become a cell. In other words, not every member has the power to add new members, the priesthood authority is needed.

2.4 Physical and Spiritual Priesthoods

When John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver, he explained that the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood he restored had the authority to do baptisms, but not to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost. That would be restored later by Peter, James, and John, under whose authority he worked. As the church progressed, it became clear that the lesser priesthood was a "physical" priesthood, administering the outward physical ordinances such as baptism and the sacrament.

The higher priesthood, sometimes called the Melchizedek Priesthood, includes the authority to perform all ordinances of the physical priesthood, but also can bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, give spiritual blessings, and preside in the Church (once it is started). Because of the comparison in this paper to the physical and spiritual parts of a body, and the creation process, these priesthoods are also called "physical" and "spiritual" in this article (D&C 107:12-14).

2.5 The Unborn Body of the Church Grows

3. Samuel Smith
With the physical priesthood restored, it was possible to baptize other believers. At the time the priesthood was restored, both Joseph and Oliver were working on the translation of the Book of Mormon in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Joseph's brother Samuel came to visit only ten days later on Mon 25 May 1829 and he was the third person baptized (DHC I:44). Then because of persecution, the two moved to the home of the father of Oliver's friend David Whitmer in Fayette, New York, in early June, 1829. Almost immediately Joseph's brother Hyrum, and then David and his brother Peter Whitmer, Jr., became the fourth, fifth and sixth baptized members of the as yet unborn new Church of Christ (DHC I:51). By this time, the body was large enough to be officially born, with only six members.

The Birth

4. Hyrum Smith
What authority does it take to start a branch of the Church of Christ? The authority to start a church where there is no church yet established requires the authority of the higher priesthood (D&C 107:35, D&C 20:38, D&C 107:7).

Sometime after the restoration of the physical priesthood, the promise of John the Baptist was fulfilled. Peter, James and John, the three apostles of Jesus Christ who held the keys of the Kingdom of God, conferred the higher spiritual priesthood on both Joseph and Oliver (D&C 27:12). Note that there was no church organized yet. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, vested with the authority to properly organize the restored church.

Joseph and Oliver were told that even after they received the higher spiritual priesthood, they would have to wait to ordain each other to the office of elder until the Church was organized so that they could be sustained as the spiritual leaders of the members (DHC I:60-61).

That is an amazing detail that Joseph and Oliver almost certainly would not have thought if they were just pretending to be talking with angels. When they received the lesser physical priesthood, the two immediately ordained each other and were then able to start baptizing repentant people. But this time they had to wait. They could not ordain each other and begin bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost. Why not?

The answer appears to have everything to do with starting up the Church properly. The gift of the Holy Ghost is for confirmed members of the Church, and there was no church yet. This detailed procedure seems clearly to be part of correct bootstrapping protocol. The fact that everything was done with such attention to detail is a witness of the authenticity of the entire restoration. As far as I know, the significance of these procedural details as they relate to the bootstrapping problem has been entirely overlooked until now.

2.6 The Breath of Life: The Holy Ghost

Birth of the Church.
Here is the order of events on Tue 6 Apr 1830, the day the Church of Christ was born. The first matter of business was to ask the already baptized members present to vote on whether they would sustain Joseph and Oliver as their spiritual teachers and whether they should proceed to organize the Church. Here is a key step. It is like asking the preformed body of the church if it wants to be born, and accept them as the spiritual head. It is how those qualified through baptism to be future members of the church could vote to sustain the very first church leaders. This was the bootstrapping method used.

After the unanimous approval of those voting, the Church was considered born. Then immediately Joseph ordained Oliver to be an elder in the newborn church. He had the authority of the higher priesthood, and the sustaining vote of the church members to do that. That was not just an ordination to the priesthood, which can be done outside of the church, as in the case of their previous ordinations. Oliver was now an elder of the newly organized Church. Then Oliver ordained Joseph to be an elder also (DHC I:77-78).

5. David Whitmer
Joseph and Oliver then blessed bread and wine and partook of the sacrament with the other members. Then they laid their hands on the heads of each baptized candidate present and confirmed them to be members of the newly formed Church and gave them the gift of the Holy Ghost. That seems much like the breath of life entering the newly formed body of the Church. Do you see the incredibly perfect order of all of this? The Church was now fully organized and it had members which had been confirmed by those whom they had voted to sustain.

This is the answer to the question posed at the first of the article of how to get members of the Church before there is a church in order to have them sustain the leaders of the Church. To me it is important that the answer is that first one gets physical candidates using the physical priesthood, and then they vote to accept the spiritual priesthood leaders and formally organize the Church. And it is all very reminiscent of the creation of life.

3. Conclusion

The restoration of the Lord's Church adhered to strict protocols of priesthood and ordinances that solved difficult technical problems, such as how to have members of a church sustain its leaders before the church is even organized. Moreover, the pattern of events closely resembled the pattern in the creation and birth of all life. That the Lord's Church was born according to a similar pattern of all life is a testimony of the Divine Hand in its founding.