Get a stripped-down copy of this page.
If a Mormon ever points to divisions within mainstream Christendom for apologetic purposes, as an objection against Christian unity, my usual response is: "Just wait. Mormonism is only 180 years old. You'll have plenty of your own when you get to be 2050."
In fact you need not even wait that long. We have recently acquired a book titled Divergent Paths of Restoration by one Steven Shields which provides what appears to be an exhuastive catalog of Mormon schismatic movements. (You can still buy it here, in fact.)
Let us be clear about our intent: We are not striving, as Mormon apologists themselves do, to ascribe some negative meaning to the presence of schisms in the Mormon church. On the contrary, we are making the point that Mormon apologetic appeals to divisions within mainstream Christendom -- as support for claims of apostasy, or of a need for prophetic authority, or whatever -- are themselves subject to be turned around upon Mormonism.
With that, we offer now a listing (and limited comments upon) Shields' reports of Mormon "divergent paths". Many of these vary in doctrine; some hold the same basic doctines as another except for one or two points, or vary in practice. In this respect the LDS Church is as much a mirror of the mainstream Christian church.
- Wyam Clark's Pure Church of Christ -- led 5 others into a secession from the main church, claiming to be a prophet. Had 2-3 meetings before disbanding.
- John Noah -- claimed to be a prophet; focus on issues of dress.
- Hoton's Independent Church -- denounced Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon; movement self-destructed when he and his bishop had disagreements.
- Warren Parrish's Church of Christ -- claimed that Smith had strayed from the Gospel; Parrish took 3 of 12 members of the apostles' group with him as well as a number of other highly-ranked persons. It claimed to own the Kirtland Temple, and wanted to renounce Smith and the Book of Mormon.
- Isaac's Russell's Alston Church -- led a group that desired to remain in Missouri. Russell claimed to have had revelations that the group should stay, and concerning missionary activity.
- George Hinckle's The Bride the Lamb's Wife
- Oliver Olney -- claimed to be set apart as a prophet and denied certain Mormon doctrines. Not known to have gathered any followers.
- Francis Bishop's Church of Jesus Christ -- one of the original Seventy, claimed the Melchizedek priesthood. After his death his followers joined the RLDS.
- Law, Foster and Higbee's True Church of Jesus Christ -- founded by several LDS leaders in opposition to the practice of plural marriage.
- Sidney Rigdon's Church of Jesus Christ of the Children of Zion -- formerly a confidant of Smith, excommunicated by Brigham Young, but still gained a considerable following which dissolved after his death.
- John Page -- former member of the Twelve under Smith' excommunicated by Young. May not have organized a formal church but did have a following.
- James Strang's Strangites -- produced a letter allegedly by Smith, appointing Strang his prophetic successor; also claimed to have had an angelic vision confirming his position. Persuaded many prominent leaders to follow him; his movement moved to Wisconsin and was successful until driven into the ground by persecution. Strang's movement was Sabbatarian and offered animal sacrifices. They still exist; Strang also claimed to translate golden plates and according to a reader the presence of chiasmus is used to authenticate his work.
- Aaron Smith's Church of Christ -- a short-lived splinter group in Strang's group
- McLellin and Whitmer's Church of Christ
- George Miller -- led a small group to Texas, out of Young's group heading to Utah. Later joined Strang's group.
- Charles Thompson's Congregation of Jehovah's Presybtery of Zion -- after leaving the main group for Strang's, was later "commanded" by God to organize educational and religious groups. Claimed the main LDS church had been rejected by God on Smith's death.
- William Smith's Church of Jesus Christ -- brother of Joseph and member of the Twelve; split off when Young and he could not agree. After a brief tour with the Strangites, started his own church, which later teamed with Lyman Wright's group and finally dissolved. Smith became a member of the RLDS.
- James Brewster's Church of Christ -- a 10 year old boy who claimed to have been authorized by Moroni to write a book. Brewster continued to write books and eventually started his own church, as Joseph Smith's had departed from the truth. The movement split apart a few years later.
- Lorenzo Oatman -- set himself up as a prophet splitting from Brewster's movement.
- Austin Cowles -- formed a group split off from Brewster's as a protest to a matter of technical organization.
- Increase M. Van Dusen -- followed Strang first, then claimed revelations of his own and published material exposing temple ceremonies. It is not known whether he actually organized a church.
- Jacob Syrfritt's The Bride, The Lamb's Wife -- after spliting off to join the Strangites, claimed a revelation that he was to succeed William Smith as the head of his church.
- Arnold Potter -- missionary to Australia who claimed revelations that he was to lead the LDS church. Later recorded to have had some followers in Council Bluffs.
- Alpheus Cutler's Church of Jesus Christ -- stayed behind with some followers when the LDS left Nauvoo; claimed based on revelations that he was to reorganize the church. This movement, though small (32 members by Shields' count), still exists today.
- RLDS -- perhaps the most prominent schism, led by Joseph Smith III.
- George Hickenlooper -- dissenter from the Jehovah's Presbytery
- Church of Christ, Temple Lot -- a group of LDS in bought a lot for a Temple in Independence, Missouri, they remain viable today with about 3000 members.
- Walter Gibson's Church of Jesus Christ -- started his own faction while on a mission on Hawaii.
- Joseph Morris' Church of the First Born -- self-claimed prophet who gathered as many as 500 followers; claimed Brigham Young taught false doctrine and that he had been commanded to organize the church again. Made several false eschatological predictions and claimed to be Moses reincarnate.
- William Bicketrton's Church of Christ -- claimed prophetic authority to organize a church in Pennsylvania; still functioning today with about 6000 members.
- George Adams' Church of the Messiah -- first a Mormon, then a Strangite, later claimed to have been commanded by God to journey to Palestine to start a colony, which failed.
- William Davies -- member of the Morrisites who claimed a revelation that he was to iunaugurate the new millenium and set up headquarters in Walla Walla. Claimed to be Michael the archangel and that his son was Jesus Christ reincarnate.
- William Godbe's Church of Zion -- claimed revelations teaching free enterprise, as a response to a merchant's association organized by Brigham Young.
- Barnet Giles -- claimed the LDS church had been rejected at the time of Smith's death because Young was not a true prophet and a temple had not yet been built.
- David Whitmer's Church of Christ -- original Book of Mormon "witness" who failed in a bid for church president and some yeras later started his own church.
- George Dove's Church of the First Born -- composed of remnants of Morrisites who followed this claimed prophet.
- The Priesthood Groups -- fundamentalists who continued practicing polygamy even after the church as a whole stopped it, and also kept the Adam-God doctrine.
- James Brighouse -- claimed Young was a false prophet and that the LDS were reincarnations of the people who had done the Jewish Exodus.
- John Koyle -- claimed revelations from Moroni directing him to treasures hidden in a mine. Started his own fellowship to finance the venture.
- Nathaniel Baldwin -- led a group interested in preaching to the Indians in the belief that they would turn white. Also practiced polygamy.
- Samuel Eastman -- claimed to be the "One Mighty and Strong" who would clean up the church and conferred a priesthood upon himself.
- John Clark -- claimed prophet who advocated the restoration or polygamy and said he was the "most literal descendant of Jesus Christ" on earth.
- Hannah Sorenso -- started own faction advocating vegetarianism and practicing glossolia and prophecy.
- Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ -- splinter group created over disagreement about the Millenium.
- Primitive Church of Jesus Christ -- splinter from Bickerton's group.
- Richard Evans' Church of the Christian Brotherhood -- splinter from the RLDS that moved to Canada.
- Moses Gudmundsen -- claimed prophet who taught that men could abaondon prior wives for new ones.
- John Zahnd's Church of Christ, Order of Zion -- splinter from RLDS that advocated communal living.
- Thomas Williams' Church of Jesus Christ -- RLDS splinter that came of dissatisfaction with RLDS administrative policy.
- Frank Wipper's Church of Christ Independent-Informal -- splinter from Temple Lot group.
- Paul Feil -- claimed LDS priesthood had become corrupt and that he was a messenger of a new covenant.
- Otto Fetting's Church of Christ -- Temple Lot splinter; claimed revelations from John the Baptist to build a temple in Independence and taught a doctrine of re-baptism.
- E. J. Trapp's Church of Christ -- started new group promoting a "one-person godhead" thesis.
- Davis County Co-Op Society -- communal, polygamist movement alleged to have specific divine authority to exist.
- Church of Christ (Restored) -- split from Fetting's group.
- Long and Nerren's Church of Christ -- split from Temple Lot.
- Church if Jesus Christ, Third Convention -- split from Mexican LDS fellowship for political reasons.
- J. H. Sherwood's Church of Jesus Christ of Israel -- Sherwood claimed a right to a bishopric and was declined; he thereafter condemned the priesthood for failure to recognize his claim.
- Margarito Bautista's Church of Jesus Christ -- advocated return to polygamy.
- W. A. Draves' Church of Christ with the Elijah Message -- offshoot of Fetting's movement; still exists today.
- Martin Glendenning's Order of Aaron -- claimed his Scottish family was the real possessor of the priesthood.
- Pauline Hancock's Church of Christ -- offshoot of Temple Lot movement. Uses the Bible only and rejects the Book of Mormon.
- Marl Kilgore's Zion's Order of the Sons of Levi
- Clyde Fletcher's Church of Jesus Christ -- offshoot of Cutler's movement. Had only 2 members in 1975.
- Theron Drew's Church of Jesus Christ -- offshoot first from Strangites, then from Kilgore's movement. Consists mainly of the Drew family.
- Joel LeBaron's Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times -- claimed special priesthood authority.
- Ross LeBaron's Church of the First Born -- Joel's brother; claimed it was he who had received the priesthood authority.
- John Leabo's New American's Mount Zion -- began a move to develop Antarctica and believes in reincarnation.
- United Outcasts of Israel -- organized by a descendant of Parley Pratt who broke off from Joel LeBaron. Mostly economic in association.
- William Conway's Perfected Church of Jesus Christ of Immaculate Latter-day Saints -- Conway claimed to be host to Moroni, Joseph Smith Jr., and others and set up a church among Native Americans; teaches polygamy and claims that one Mulek 2000 years ago designated the site of Los Angeles sacred.
- E. E. Long's Church of Christ -- still had 20 members at Shields' writing.
- Noel Pratt's American Indian Restoration Enterprises -- also focussed on restoring the Indians/Lamanites.
- Bruce David Longo -- claimed to receive revelation, and that Joseph Smith had been allowed to die to atone for his sins.
- Sherman Russell Lloyd's LDS Scripture Researchers -- claimed Joseph Smith, Jr. jad returned to earth and that the LDS church had apostasized.
- David Desmond's United Order of the Family of Christ -- equivalent in Mormonism of the Metropolitan Communiy Church (geared towards homosexuals)
- David Roberts' True Church of Jesus Christ -- claimed to be prophetic successor to Smith and Strang. Considers all other Mormon churches apostate. Gathered as many as 11,000 members.
- Barney Fuller's World Redemption -- organized to counter liberalism in the RLDS. Fuller later started the New Jerusalem Church of Christ.
- Stanley King's Church of Jesus Christ Restored -- offshoot of RLDS which claims they are the new "chosen church".
- F. Ellwood Russell's Restored Church of Jesus Christ -- claims to have been called by God to restore the priesthood.
- N. S. Park's Latter Day Saints Church -- claims to have new authorized Scripture and that Christ will return to Park's home.
- Ervil LeBaron's Church of the Lamb -- splinter from Joel LeBaron's church; dedicated to removing false prophets.
- Kathryn Carter's New Jerusalem Group -- claims her son is the fulfillment of Rev. 12:5 and the "rod of iron" of Mormon scriptures.
- Nerren and Hall's Church of Christ at Zion's Retreat -- offshoot of Nerren and Long's group
- Nerren and Gayman's Church of Israel -- white supremacist group.
- Miltenberg and Braun's Watchmen on the Towers of Latter Day Israel -- calls for retunr to original Mormonism of Smith's day
- Alexander Joseph's Church of Jesus Christ of Solemn Assembly -- polygamist group.
- John Bryant's Church of Christ (Patriarchal) -- claimed visit from the apostle John ordering him to establish an "Order of the Ancients" , a group that would act as spokesmen for translated beings. Polygamist.
- Daniel Rogers' Church of Christ with the Elijah Message -- breakoff from Draves' group.
- Ernest Strack -- polygamist.
- Gerald Peterson's Christ's Church -- considers the main Mormon church apostate; considers the allowing of African-Americans into the temple to be the 'final act of apostasy' polluting the temple.
- Alexander Caffiaux's Holy Church of Jesus Christ -- French Strangite offshoot
- Eugene Walton's Restored Church of Jesus Christ -- offshoot of Fuller's movement
- Aryan Christian Church -- mixes Mormonism and Naziism.
- Forrest Toney's True Church of Jesus Christ -- claims to be Elijah, Lamb of God and Savior.
- Zion's First International Church -- formed in opposition to the LDS church's opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment
- Franklin Coleman's Free Will Mormon Church
- Peyote Way Church of God -- uses peyote in its sacraments