Minutes, , Geauga Co., OH, 17 Feb. 1834. Featured version copied [ca. 17 Feb. 1834] in Minute Book 1, pp. 29–31; handwriting of ; CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for Minute Book 1.
The following minutes of a 17 February 1834 meeting record the initial organization of a standing “Presidents Church Council” in , Ohio—later known as the “ of the ,” or the Kirtland high council. The minutes also document the rules the council should follow when judging a church member accused of a transgression. Before 17 February, such issues had been judged by “” or “councils” of priesthood holders (with other church members often in attendance). Who composed these conferences and councils varied with location and the availability of potential attendees. Revelations dictated by JS in August and November 1831 also provided for a to hear such cases, as well as for an appellate “court of the church before the .” The November revelation also empowered the president to call twelve available to assist in adjudicating a case. The new standing council in Kirtland was to serve as “an ensample” for similar, temporary councils organized as occasions demanded in outlying areas and also as an appellate court placed between lower disciplinary councils and the presidency of the high priesthood.
According to the minutes featured here, JS stated that he organized the high council on the same principles that governed the “order of Councils in ancient days.” Five days earlier JS had discussed this ancient order in a council of and high priests, where he focused his remarks on the qualifications and conduct required of individual members of such councils. An earlier reference in Minute Book 1 to educating elders on “the ancient manner of conducting meetings” indicates the topic had been on JS’s mind as early as 1831 and suggests that the 17 February 1834 meeting represents an important milestone in JS’s ongoing effort to restore the ancient gospel, as he understood it, to the earth.
Pursuant to the instructions recorded near the end of the document featured here, JS “laboured . . . with all the strength and wisdom that he had” the following day to correct these minutes. On 19 February, JS presented the corrected minutes to the council, which, after hearing the revised minutes read three times and suggesting at least one additional correction, unanimously voted to accept them “for a form, and constitution of the high Council of the Church of Christ hereafter.” JS then reported that “the Council was organized according to the ancient order, and also according to the mind of the Lord.”
him by vision. The law and by which to govern the Council in the . Jerusalem was the seat of the Church Council in ancient days. The apostle, Peter, was the president of the in ancient days and held the of the Kingdom of God, <on the Earth> was appointed to this office by the voice of the Saviour and confirmed <acknowledgement acknowledged> in it by the voice of the Church. He had two men appointed as Counsellors with him, and in case Peter was absent, his Counsellors Could transact business. <or either one of them. The President could also transact business alone.> It was not the order of heaven in ancient Councils to plead for and against the guilty as in our judicial Courts (so called) but that if every Counsellor when he arose to speak, should speak precisely according to evidence and according to the teaching of the spirit of the Lord, that no Counsellor should attempt to screen the guilty when his guilt was manifest That the person acused before the high council had a right to one half the memb[e]rs of the council to plead his cause, that is six, in order that his case might be fairly presented before the President that a descission might be rendered according to truth and righteousness. If the case was not a very difficult one to investigate, two of the Counsellors only, spoke, one for the accused and one against <on one side and one on the other> according to evidence. If the case was more difficult, according to the judgment of the Council, two were to speak on each side, and if more difficult, three might speak on each side, and three only. Those who spoke in Council were chosen by the council and that too by casting lots. Those who were thus chosen to speak, took their regular turn, in speaking. Bro Joseph said that this organization was an ensample to the in their Councils abroad, and a copy of their proceedings be transmitted to the seat of the goverment of the Church to be recorded on the general record. In all cases, the accuser and the acused have a perfect right to speak for themselves before the Council. The Councils abroad, have a right and it is their duty to appoint a president for the time being for themselves. If in case the parties are not satisfied with the decission of the Council abroad, they have a right to an appeal to the , and from thence to the which is and end of all strife [p. 30]
When JS revised these minutes over the following two days, he omitted this specific explanation of an appeals process. An earlier revelation provided for a “Court of the high priesthood,” composed of the president of the high priesthood and twelve other high priests, whose “desision upon controvers[i]es” was final. Subsequent records indicate that by the end of April 1843, individuals dissatisfied with the decision of a high council with appellate authority were still able to appeal their case to the First Presidency. (Revelation, 11 Nov. 1831–B [D&C 107:79–80]; JS, Journal, 30 Apr. 1843; “Trial before the First Presidency,” 30 Apr. 1843, JS Collection, CHL.)
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.