LDS and RLDS (Community of Christ): Differences & Similarities

By Bill McKeever

In 1844, Joseph Smith, prophet and seer and revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, met an untimely death when he was killed in a gun battle at Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois (History of the Church 7:101-103). His early demise left the fledgling church with a political power struggle. Although numerous splinter groups were formed, a large number of Latter-day Saints decided to pledge their allegiance to Brigham Young. In doing so, Young led his followers to the Salt Lake Valley in what is today known as the state of Utah. Today, the LDS Church is the largest of the Latter-day Saint movements.

Joseph Smith's widow, Emma Smith, chose to remain behind with her three children. Many of those who refused to follow Young felt that a descendant of Joseph Smith must become his successor. In June 1852, the "New Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" held its first conference. Though encouraged to become the head of the church, Joseph Smith III, the oldest of Emma's three sons, refused to do so until 1860 when The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) was formed. He held this position for 54 years. For much of its history the RLDS chose a leader who was related to Joseph Smith (The LDS typically choose the senior member of the Council of the Twelve when there is a vacancy). In 1996 this tradition was broken when W. Grant McMurray became the first president who had no relationship with the Smith family. Under the leadership of McMurray, the name of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially changed to the Community of Christ (CofC) at its World Conference in 2000.

Members who belong to the LDS Church in Utah often refer to themselves as being Mormons, an early nickname attributed to the followers of Joseph Smith. Members of the CofC prefer not to be called by this title.

Both groups accept the Book of Mormon as part of its scripture; however, the LDS Church has made numerous "corrections" to their edition which have not been included in the CofC edition.

The LDS Church considers the following four books to be scripture: the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. The CofC has never recognized the Pearl of Great Price and insists that the Book of Abraham contradicts teachings found in the Bible and Book of Mormon.

The LDS Church teaches that God is a glorified, exalted human being and that there was a time in history when God was not God. The CofC espuses a deity who was eternally God and "independent of any external or prior cause" (Some Differences Between the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pg.1).

The LDS Church teaches that there is a myriad of Gods on various worlds. The LDS Godhead is tri-theistic, or composed of three separate and distinct Gods, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. According to its official website, the CofC states, "We affirm the Trinity - God who is a community of three person. All things that exist owe their being to God: mystery beyond understanding and love beyond imagination. This God alone is worthy of our worship."

Both groups believe men will be judged according to their works.

Both groups hold to baptismal regeneration.

Both groups believe in an open canon and "present-day revelation."

Whereas only males can hold priesthood authority in the LDS Church, the CofC authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1984.

The LDS Church claims that men are Gods in embryo and that righteous Mormons can become Gods in the next life. The CofC does not teach that men can become Gods.

Utah Mormons believe that in order to become a God, the faithful member must participate in esoteric temple "endowment" ceremonies.  The Mormons only allow "worthy" members to enter their temples and participate in its rituals. The CofC owns two buildings called temples (Kirtland, OH and Independence, MO), and both are open to the public. The CofC "rejects the whole system of temple rituals, secret names, signs, oaths, and handshakes which the Church in Utah proclaims are essential to the ultimate salvation of man" (Fundamental Differences, 1960, pg. 230).

Utah Mormonism teaches that marriages performed in LDS temples can continue after death. The CofC teaches that marriage relationships pertain only to mortal life.

The CofC utilizes the symbol of the cross on its buildings, whereas the LDS Church has refused to use this symbol.

During the 19th century, the LDS Church in Utah strongly emphasized the practice of plural marriage as a requirement for exaltation. Although this requirement was officially abolished in 1890 (as a condition for Utah statehood), it is still taught that polygamy will be practiced in the hereafter. "Obviously the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium" (Mormon Doctrine, Bruce McConkie, pg. 522,523). The CofC has always denounced polygamy although it does not deny that it was practiced. For instance, Robert B. Flanders, on page 209 of his book titled, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi, wrote, "The Nauvoo Temple was the focus of religious innovations which revolutionized Mormonism. Ordinances for the dead, as well as novel and secret ordinances for the living, including marriage for eternity, plural marriage, and other extraordinary familial arrangements, were introduced by Smith and Young in Nauvoo for temple observance."

The LDS Church teaches that deceased persons can embrace Mormonism in the spirit world through "baptism for the dead." The CofC has never condoned such a teaching and does not practice baptism for the dead.

Until 1978, the LDS Church taught that the "Seed of Cain," those of African heritage, could not hold the Mormon priesthood since such people were not valiant enough for the cause of Christ when Lucifer rebelled against God in the "pre-existence." The CofC has never held such a view although Joseph Smith III claimed to have received a revelation which warned his Church to "not be hasty in ordaining men of the Negro race to offices in my church" since "all are not acceptable unto me as servants ..." (Reorganized Doctrine and Covenants 116:4.)

The LDS Church interprets the tithe as 1/10 of one's income, whereas the CofC bases the tithe on 1/10 of one's increase.

Both the LDS and CofC claimed God ordained their organization as the true restoration of fallen Christianity. The LDS Church continues to insist that it alone represents "the only true church" and more closely emulates primitive Christianity. The CofC has come to abandon this notion: "A majority of committee members held that this vision of the nature of the church was inadequate for the church of the present day. It does not conform to our best present understanding of the nature of God as revealed in the gospel of Christ, nor does it allow us to account for the fact that we continually experience the reality of authentic Christian discipleship in people from other traditions. Moreover, our past understanding of earliest Christianity has proved to be historically deficient: there is simply no evidence that a church existed in the first century that looked like ours. Therefore, the belief that we are the restoration of the primitive form of Christianity can no longer be sustained."