William G. Nelson reported the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., as saying the following:
"I will give you a key that will never rust — if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray."
I've heard this statement through the years, and wondered if there ever was a time when the majority of the Twelve Apostles have gone astray or been excommunicated. Today, this is almost an unthinkable reality; however, during the time frame of 1837-1839, it was very much a real concern. Many high ranking church leaders left Joseph during the early years of the church's existance.
As chosen by the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, here are the original Twelve Apostles of the modern era (in order of seniority - different topic):
- Thomas B. Marsh
- David W. Patten
- Brigham Young
- Heber C. Kimball
- Orson Hyde
- William E. M'Lellin
- Parley P. Pratt
- Luke S. Johnson
- William Smith
- Orson Pratt
- John F. Boynton
- Lyman E. Johnson
Between September 1837 and October 1838, 6 members left the 12, and 1 was killed (David W. Patten in the Battle of Crooked River).
John F. Boynton, Luke and Lyman Johnson, and William E. M'Lellin all left the church in Kirtland; mainly because of financial problems with the church and their opinion that Joseph was a fallen prophet.
Also in Kirtland, at this time, the Three Witnesses and one of the First Presidency (Frederick G. Williams) left Joseph. That's a huge portion of the leadership of the church that just walked out.
Thomas B. Marsh and Orson Hyde left the church in Missouri in October 1838; mainly because of the mobbings and stance of the church against these events (in some cases being very aggressive in defense).
This makes a total of 6 dissenters: Boynton, Johnson(2), M'Lellin, Marsh, and Hyde.
Okay, so by November 1838, there are 5 active members in the quorum: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, William Smith, and Orson Pratt. This is less than half. Admittedly Orson Hyde was on his way back to the church, and would rejoin the Twelve in June 1839, but he doesn't count yet.
That's 5 members of 12; one less than half, and definitely less than a majority. However, the other 6 living ex-members, did not stick together, so I'm not sure you can count them as the actual majority in the quorum.
The lack of members in the 12 was remedied in late 1838 and early to mid 1839. At this time John E. Page, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, and Orson Hyde were added to the 12.
My point: If the quote from Joseph is true, can it still be true when half the 12 left him? I think it can. This statement still stands up because the 7th member (David W. Patten) did not leave the church because of apostasy; he was killed, thus he remained faithful to the end.
I'm satisfied, this still is a true statement with the history record bearing out the results. I can rest easy now. :)
F.Y.I.: Of the 6 who left, Orson Hyde returned to the Twelve, Luke S. Johnson made his way out to Salt Lake (joined the church again) and died there, and Thomas B. Marsh made his way out to Salt Lake (joining the church again) and died in Ogden, Utah, I believe. Only John F. Boynton, Lyman E. Johnson, and William E. M'Lellin did not return to the church; although I've read that Boynton visited with Brigham in Salt Lake and was friendly with the church.
I believe M'Lellin stayed bitter towards the prophet Joseph to the end; although, there is some talk about him being friendly with many other Saints. He was among the anti-Mormon crowd that worked with the Missouri militia to capture the city of Far West (along with the prophet and his companions). However, there must have been something about the church, the teachings and the fellowship of the Saints that M'Lellin missed; because after the death of Joseph, he associated with Sidney Rigdon, James Strang, and David Whitmer in their post-martyrdom 'Mormon' churches.
I guess with all of the financial and political problems behind them, there was still something about the fellowship of the Saints that these men needed.
Origin of the above quote:
Young Women's Journal, 1906, p. 543.
Although it is not specifically stated in this book, it appears that this quote from Joseph is from the period of time when the church was based in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Here's a link to the book with the quote in it: Google Books Reference