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Questions Regarding the Priesthood Council or Council of Friends

        In 1933-34 Lorin Woolley, with J. Leslie Broadbent, John Y. Barlow and Joseph Musser introduced a brand new religious teaching to the world in three publications:[a] 

        Theses publications taught that outside of the Church there existed a Priesthood organization presided over by a Council of Seven Friends.  Today, that council is simply called the Priesthood Council by the fundamentalist groups who have retained it.  Regardless, Woolley asserted that the Priesthood Council had existed prior to the Church’s 1830 organization and hence, was superior to anything in the Church. 

 According to Woolley, this Council had existed secretly in Nauvoo. We recall that three secret groups did exist in Nauvoo: the polygamists, the Endowed Quorum, and the Council of Fifty.  Despite the intense secrecy maintained in the early 1840s regarding these three groups, all have since been well researched and publicized.  Today, it can be accurately stated that we know a great deal about the polygamists, the Council of Fifty and the endowed quorum of the Nauvoo era.



 Woolley, Broadbent, Barlow, and Musser asserted there was then a fourth secret group.


  Ironically, this described fourth secret group comprised of an independent PRIESTHOOD organization, High Priest Apostles, a Priesthood Council (Council of Friends) and possibly a Sanhedrin, remains historically invisible today.[b]  Nothing has been found to support its existence prior to 1934.  Fundamentalist apologists have recruited a few quotations they assert to be references to that secret Priesthood Council.  Perhaps the most common quotation cited by Mormon fundamentalists to support the idea of a priesthood council above the Church comes from Heber C. Kimball.  Upon his return to Nauvoo in August, 1844 weeks after the death of Joseph Smith, he learned that Sidney Rigdon was proposing to lead the Church as its "guardian."  At that time Kimball observed that Sidney "has not got the same authority as others; there are more than thirty men who have got higher authority than he has...  There are men here brethren who have got authority, but we don't want to mention their names, for the enemy will try to kill them."[c]  Rigdon had not received his complete temple endowment.  He had received only a part and that made him inferior to any man who had received it in its entirety.  How could Rigdon preside over men who had received all of the sacred ordinance work when he had not?  Research shows also that in reality, it was more like twenty men rather than thirty.[d]   

    Another reference commonly cited is also from Heber C. Kimball.  In a June 17, 1842 letter to Parley P. Pratt, Kimball referred to the specific keys saying "I can not give them to you on paper fore they are not to be riten [sic].  So you must come and get them fore your Self."[e]  Some Mormon fundamentalist assert that this is somehow a reference to the secret Council of Friends.  However, researching the history of the quote shows quite clearly that it is simply a reference to the temple endowment.  The ordinances received by Heber C. Kimball and other members of the Endowed Quorum in Nauvoo were held extremely sacred.  Consequently, they could not be recorded or written down.  Heber C. Kimball received his endowment on 4 May 1842 in the upper room of Joseph Smith's red brick store.[1]  The following month is when he wrote to fellow apostle Parley Pratt who was still in England presiding over the missionary work there. 

    A third quote comes from Brigham Young who commented: "There are keys that the written word never spoke of, nor never will."[2]  This is a reference to the temple endowment, which was not recorded or “written” until 1877 when the St. George Temple was completed and a sacred repository established. 

    On August 9, 1874, Brigham Young talked about the priesthood offices within the Church and then commented:  “This is what we are in the habit of calling the kingdom of God.  But there are further organizations.  The Prophet gave a full and complete organization to this kingdom the Spring before he was killed.  (JD 17:157.)  In the spring of 1844 Joseph Smith gave additional details on the Council of Fifty.  Even by fundamentalist accounts, nothing special occurred “the Spring before [Joseph Smith] was killed” regarding their described Priesthood organization.

    An observation sometimes recited to support a higher PRIESTHOOD organization is that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received their ordinations to the priesthood in May and June of 1829, which was prior to the formal organization of Church which occurred in April of 1830. Musser theorized that Joseph and Oliver organized the superior PRIESTHOOD in 1829.[3]  It is correct that there was no Church "according to the laws of the land" in 1829. The question still exists however, "Was there a Church in the land according to the Lord?" Prior to the restoration of the priesthood to Joseph Smith in 1829, the Lord gave a definition of His Church found in D&C 10:67-68: Behold, this is my doctrine -- whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more of less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.  By this definition, one would assume that as soon as Joseph Smith "repented and came unto the Lord" in 1820 that a "church" was upon the land as far as the Lord was concerned. It is problematic to claim that no church could exist in the eyes of the Lord until the laws of the land were complied with. Fundamentalists are sometimes quick to criticize the ways of "men," but Musser seems comfortable requiring the Lord to observe the laws of "men" before a "church" could be established in the land.

Another few citations are often mentioned by Mormon fundamentalist writers, but none are direct or obvious; nor are they specific.  They seem to be quotations taken out of context.  It seems that if such a lofty Council had ever existed, someone would have referred it in some way.  Joseph Smith taught: 

Here is another important item. If you assemble from time to time, and proceed to discuss important questions, and pass decisions upon the same, and fail to note them down, by and by you will be driven to straits from which you will not be able to extricate yourselves, because you may be in a situation not to bring your faith to bear with sufficient perfection or power to obtain the desired information; or, perhaps, for neglecting to write these things when God had revealed them, not esteeming them of sufficient worth, the Spirit may withdraw, and God may be angry; and there is, or was, a vast knowledge, of infinite importance, which is now lost. What was the cause of this? It came in consequence of slothfulness, or a neglect to appoint a man to occupy a few moments in writing all these decisions. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 73.)

 If a Council of Friends (or Priesthood Council) had been presiding during the first century of the Church’s existence, it seems likely that they would have met from time to time in a council setting.  Nevertheless, not one reference to such a meeting has been found.  No minutes were taken.  No decisions written down.  No journals of the alleged membership between 1829 and 1934 reveal even one reference to attendance to a meeting of a presiding Council of Friends.  And the described membership during that period is rife with inconsistencies.[4]

Historian D. Michael Quinn expressed his opinion regarding the source for the Council of Seven Friends noting that President John Taylor reanimated the Council of Fifty in 1882 and then created a subcommittee called the "Quorum of Seven" or "Committee of Seven."  Quinn explained: "This committee of the 1880s is undoubtedly the actual source for the mythical 'Council of Seven Friends' which Lorin C. Woolley invented and others have used as the self‑perpetuating authority structure for continuing polygamy in defiance of LDS Church authority."[5]

Fred Collier, both a polygamist and fundamentalist,[6] concluded in 1991: "Fundamentalists who found their faith on a belief that the Prophet Joseph Smith ever established a so called 'Council of Friends' composed of seven 'High Priest Apostles' or any other number, are following a fable B there is not a word of truth in it... There is not one shred of evidence to support the existence of the Council of Friends, but on the contrary, all the evidence utterly refutes it.  Why don't we all come clean and admit the Truth! The time for such fables is past! The war is over, The teachings on the Council of Friends is a lie."[7]

Questions Regarding High Priest Apostles

Musser and Broadbent explained that the titles of "High Priest Apostles" and "Friends" are associated with D&C 84:63, which states: "And as I said unto mine apostles, even so I say unto you, for you are mine apostles, even God's high priests; ye are they whom my Father hath given me; ye are my friends" (italics added).[8]  This verse refers to elders as "mine Apostles, even God's High Priests."  By rearranging the words "Apostles" and "High Priests," the term "High Priest Apostle" may be compiled.[9]  Those High Priests are considered to be the Lord's "friends."  The membership number of seven was supported by the belief that the entire section 84 was dictated in the presence of seven elders (see verse one), but in reality eleven were present when verse 63 was given.[10] 

To help his readers understand the importance of a "High Priest Apostle," Musser and Broadbent quoted Wilford Woodruff who used the term in an 1856 discourse: "Let the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy Apostles, and High Priest Apostles, and all other Apostles rise up and keep pace with the work of the Lord God, for we have no time to sleep."[11]  However, LDS scholars would undoubtedly suggest that Musser and Broadbent stopped quoting too soon.  President Woodruff went on to say: "I want to see brother Hyde, who is President of the Twelve, walk into all these Quorums and attend their meetings, and we will back him up... it is for the Twelve to rise up and carry off the load..."[12]  The"High Priest Apostles" mentioned here by Wilford Woodruff appear to be subordinate to the Twelve Apostles.  Nevertheless, it is a genuine account referring to men as "High Priest Apostles" and is apparently the only known reference prior to 1934.  Church members would most likely assert that the High Priests and Seventies referred to were "apostles" by virtue of their having received a special personal witness of Christ's reality, without having received any secret priesthood office or ordination.[13] 

Questions Regarding the external PRIESTHOOD Organization

Learning that the priesthood is an organization will surprise most Church members who have been taught that the word "priesthood" usually refers to authority, or to the men in the Church who hold that authority.  Joseph F. Smith expressed the common definition saying: "The Priesthood in general is the authority given to man to act for God."[14]

Equally new to Latter-day Saints is the idea that someone might hold (or honor) the priesthood without being a member of God's "Church."  LDS scriptures teach that the "priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations" (D&C 84:17; italics added).  Woolley, Musser et al. believed that the Church and the PRIESTHOOD are separate organizations.  By observing that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the "aronic priesthood from John the Baptist[15] and the Melchizedek priesthood from Peter, James, and John before the legal Church was organized,[16] fundamentalist theology holds that by virtue of those ordinations, Joseph and Oliver were then members of a PRIESTHOOD organization that can exist without a formal church.

Records show that on 6 April 1830, Joseph Smith complied with the laws of the State of New York organizing the "Church of Christ."[17]  However, Church scholars might point out that to suppose that in God's eyes there was no "Church," nor were there any Church members, prior to 1830 is problematic.  Throughout the scriptures, God has never relied upon the laws of the land to define His "Church" or to designate the individuals who can become members of it. 

In 1828, Joseph Smith dictated a scripture specifying what is required for "Church" membership:  "Behold, this is my doctrine B whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.  Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church" (D&C 10:67-68).  Latter-day Saints today may wonder, "Could a man who hasn't 'repented' or 'come unto God' hold the priesthood?"  Under this definition, it seems that Joseph Smith was a "Church member" the day of the First Vision in 1820 and that both he and Oliver Cowdery were "Church" members prior to receiving the priesthood, which was months before the legal "Church" was formed.[18]  Heber C. Kimball taught in 1852: "When a man loses his membership in this Church, he also loses his Priesthood."[19]

        Irrespective, Mormon fundamentalist leaders in the 1930s taught that it was possible for excommunicated members of the Church to be ordained to priesthood offices, holding membership in a (reportedly) higher independent PRIESTHOOD organization.  Up until the 1960s, Mormon fundamentalists were very careful to never refer to their religious organization as a "church."

Interestingly, Joseph Musser in his writings never claimed that Joseph Smith taught about a Council of Friends and an independent PRIESTHOOD organization, though he undoubtedly assumed that the Prophet did.   LDS researchers believe that, armed with that assumption, Musser retrospectively attempted to identify the secret PRIESTHOOD (as Woolley described it) historically by inspecting the scriptures and other sources at his command.  That is, by scanning the seven volume History of the Church, volumes five through eight of the Historical Record, the Journal of Discourses, issues of Church periodicals like the Times and Seasons, Millennial Star, Messenger and Advocate, Juvenile Instructor and the Deseret News, Musser accumulated a list of references that might allude to the PRIESTHOOD or Council of Friends.[20]  Other fundamentalist writers have since provided a few additional quotations to support this idea.

By most standards, none of the citations provided by Mormon fundamentalists authors would be considered to be a clear discussion of an external PRIESTHOOD or its presiding Council.  Latter-day Saints might assert that the quotations are simply taken out of context,[21] or that most of the references could easily pertain to one of the three known secret groups in Nauvoo.[22] 

In December of 1942, some eight years after he with the other fundamentalist leaders had introduced the PRIESTHOOD to the world, Musser reflected on its actual origin in his journal:  "I am convicted with the feeling that the Priesthood is one organization and the Church is another, and that Pres. [Heber J.] Grant has jurisdiction in the Church.  If I am wrong I pray the Lord to correct me and to assist me in getting back into the proper channel.  Up to date, however, in all the reasoning power I have, and listening to the voice of the Spirit of the Lord, I am convinced that I am right."[23]  There is also evidence that three years later Musser confided to a fellow fundamentalist that "there is nothing above the Church."[24]

1829 or 1934, when was the first Council of Friends (or Priesthood Council) organized?

So the supreme question is:  “When was the PRIESTHOOD organization actually created?”  Did it arise in 1829 prior to the organization of the Church?  Or was its genesis in 1934 through the efforts of Woolley, Broadbent, Barlow and Musser and subsequently superimposed upon the Church itself?





[a]  In 1963, Leroy Johnson, leader of the fundamentalists in Colorado City explained: "It will be twenty years on the eighth day of next March when this Priesthood Council was brought out into the open and published to the world, not because the Priesthood wanted to be made known, but because the Lord wanted us to come out of hiding.  He wanted that testimony given to the people."  (LSJ Sermons 5:345.)

[b]   No historian has suggested that an independent Priesthood Council existed prior to 1933.  D. Michael Quinn identified five presiding priesthood councils in the early days of the Church (Origins of Power, 39-77) with no sign of a Council of Friends or its equivalent.  The secrecy used to hide the practice of plural marriage in the early decades of the restoration now prevents a full assessment of the different claims between the Church and Mormon fundamentalists.  But much research has been performed with nothing to support Woolley's ideas.  Secrecy in ordinations is condemned in LDS scripture (D&C 42:11) and reliance on secrecy could undermine the "order" that is to exist in God's House (D&C 132:8).  In addition, the mountain of inconsistencies among Mormon fundamentalist assertions regarding those alleged secret entities make them difficult to understand or successfully defend.

[c]  Times and Seasons, 5:663-664.

[d].  See Ehat, "Introduction of Temple Ordinances," 227, 178,  and diagram on 194; Devery S. Anderson lists nineteen ("Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo," 154).

[e]  Heber C. Kimball to Parley Pratt, 17 June 1842, CHD.  In Ehat, "Introduction of Temple Ordinances," 41-42; Parry, Temples of the Ancient World, 49.

[1]  See Ehat, "Introduction of Temple Ordinances," 227, 178,  and diagram on 194; Devery S. Anderson lists nineteen ("Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo," 154).

[2Times and Seasons 5:666‑67.


[3] Musser and J. Leslie Broadbent explained:  This Priesthood group began to function with Joseph Smith, its head, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, as early as June, 1829. (Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, p. 96.)  Later Musser clarified:  “First then, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were endowed with the Priesthood - the Aaronic and then the Melchizedek.  This was all done before the Church was organized. The Priesthood first functioned in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and, later in others. The "Gospel of the Kingdom" was preached, converts were baptized and the "Gift of the Holy Ghost" bestowed, still no church organization, according to the laws of the land, was in existence. The Priesthood could and did function without the Church.” (A Priesthood Issue p. 5.)  While the Church was formally organized according the laws of the State of New York in 1830, to believe there was no "church" in the eyes of God before 1830 is problematic.  See D&C 10:67-68.

[4]  See Hales and Anderson, Priesthood of Modern Polygamy, 117-76.

[5]  Quinn, "Council of Fifty," 183-84, fn 79.

[6]  Collier believed in a line of priesthood authority through A. Dayer LeBaron.  See chapter seventeen.

[7]   Regarding the Council of Friends, polygamist author and independent Mormon fundamentalist Fred Collier, has written:  

Of late, some Fundamentalists have attempted to substantiate the existence of the "Council of Friends" by identifying it with the "Holy Order" [Endowed Quorum] and the "Fulness of the Priesthood" - but you might just as well try to dress a hippo in a small bikini as to make the Holy Order into the Council of Friends. The suit just doesn't fit. Those who attempt to confute these organizations only make for themselves more problems and contradictions...

Fundamentalists who found their faith on a belief that the Prophet Joseph Smith ever established a so called "Council of Friends" composed of seven "High Priest Apostles" or any other number, are following a fable - there is not a word of truth in it_... There is not one shred of evidence to support the existence of the Council of Friends, but on the contrary, all the evidence utterly refutes it.

Why don't we all come clean and admit the Truth! The time for such fables is past! The war is over_ The teachings on the Council of Friends is a lie!

I would rather believe that Lorin Woolley and Joseph Musser knew that the Council of Friends was a lie, which for lack of anything better, they deliberately invented, in order "to beat the Devil at his own game," to quote Charles Penrose - I would rather believe this, than to believe that Woolley and Musser were so benighted and ignorant of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants as to believe something so far from the Truth. The Council of Seven High Priest Apostles or Friends never existed on Earth - at least that is, not until Lorin Woolley created it among his Fundamentalist friends.("New Light on the Lorin Woolley Story And Early Fundamentalist Beginnings,"  by Fred C. Collier.  Given in response to a paper presented by the author at the 1991 Sunstone Symposium).

[8]   Musser and Broadbent, Priesthood Items, 22; Musser, Priesthood Issue, 9-10.

[9]  See the discussion by Musser and Broadbent in Priesthood Items, 22-23.

[10]    .  Musser and Broadbent may have mistakenly assumed that the entire Section 84 was given by Joseph Smith to six elders (Supplement 101-04, Truth 17:170-71) because the first verse starts with six.  However, the chapter was given over two days to groups of different sizes.  Verses 1-41 were given to six elders on the first day and everything after verse 41 (including verse 63) was given to ten elders on the second day.  See Cook, Revelations of Joseph Smith, 176.  The difference in numbers is important because the Council of Friends is described as having seven members.

[11]  Musser and Broadbent, Priesthood Items, 22; Musser, Priesthood Issue, 10; italics added.

[12]   JD 4:147; italics added.

[13]   While the Melchizedek Priesthood has an office of "apostle" (D&C 107:23), any individual can become an "apostle" by gaining a special personal  witness of the Savior (as promised in D&C 67:10, 88:68, 93:1).  Elder Joseph Fielding Smith explained: "In the spring of 1820, after the vision was given to Joseph Smith of the Father and the Son, he stood as the only witness among men who could testify with knowledge that God lives and Jesus Christ is verily his Son. In this knowledge he became a special witness for Christ, and thus an apostle before the priesthood had been restored. With the coming of John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John, the priesthood was restored; then Oliver Cowdery, as well as Joseph Smith, became a special witness for Christ, and hence an apostle.  (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 3:146-47.)

[14]   Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 136.

[15]   Musser, Priesthood Issue, 5.  See D&C 13 and HC 1:39-40.

[16]   Broadbent and Musser, Priesthood Items, 20-21.  Musser, Priesthood Issue, 5-6.  See D&C 27:12.

[17]   See D&C 20:1, 21:3.  In 1830, the requirements of the state of New York concerning "Religious Societies, How Incorporated" read: "And be it further enacted, that it shall be lawful for the male persons of full age, belonging to any other church, congregation or religious society, now or hereafter to be established in this state... to elect any number of discrete persons of their church, congregation or society, not less than three, nor exceeding nine in number, as trustees, to take the charge of the estate and property belonging thereto, and transact all affairs relative to the temporalities thereof... That on the said day of election, two of the elders or church wardens and if there be no such officers, then two of the members of the said church, congregation or society, to be nominated by a majority of the members present, shall preside at such election, receive the votes of the electors, be the judges of the qualifications of such electors, and the officers to return the names of the persons who, by plurality of voices, shall be elected to serve as trustees for the said church, congregation or society."  (Laws of the State of New York, 1813, vol. 2, 214.) 

[18]  See the discussion by Musser and Broadbent, Priesthood Items, 48-50.

[19]  JD 3:269.

[20]  These references may be found in The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, Supplement to a New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, Priesthood Items, A Priesthood Issue and numerous issues of Truth magazine.

[21]  An analysis of all the quotations used in A Priesthood Issue can be found in Hales and Anderson, Priesthood of Modern Polygamy, 255-58.

[22]  See illustrations above.

[23]  Musser Journals, 28 December 1942.

[24]  An entry in Arnold Boss' Prison Diary for 24 November 1945 (when Musser was incarcerated) reads: "In an interview with O. Brainisch, I was told that Joseph W. Musser was reported to have said to Edmond Barlow, 'There is nothing above the Church; that when he got home he was not going to any more meetings; and expected to rejoin the Mormon Church."  Whether apocryphal or not, all research to date suggests that Musser remained completely true to his fundamentalist convictions.