Why did Oliver Cowdery join the Methodists if all other churches had been “condemned of God”?

Latter-day Saints do not believe that other churches are “condemned of God”

Late in his life, after he rejoined the Church, Oliver Cowdery was asked why he left the Church and explained, “When I left the Church, I felt wicked, I felt like shedding blood, but I have got all over that now.”[1] After sinking to such a low state, and after adopting an attitude of rebellion against the leadership of Joseph Smith, it should not be surprising that on his way back, Oliver would join up with another Christian denomination. As Richard L. Anderson has observed:

Since faith in Jesus Christ was the foundation of his religion, he logically affiliated himself with a Christian congregation for a time, the Methodist Protestant Church at Tiffin, Ohio. There is no more inconsistency in this than Paul’s worshiping in the Jewish synagogue, or Joseph Smith’s becoming a Mason in order to stem prejudice.[2]

While Joseph Smith taught that other Churches do not have the proper authority and teach some doctrine that is incorrect, he did not teach that other Churches are completely corrupt. He once explained:

The inquiry is frequently made of me, ‘Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?’ In reality and essence, we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.[3]

“Have the Presbyterians any truth?” he asked on another occasion. “Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. . . . We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’”[4] President George Albert Smith thus declared to those of other faiths: “We have come not to take away from you the truth and virtue you possess. We have come not to find fault with you nor criticize you. We have not come here to berate you. . . . We . . . say to you: ‘Keep all the good that you have, and let us bring to you more good.’”[5]

Therefore, the supposed relation between Oliver’s temporary affiliation with the Methodists and his credibility as a witness to the Book of Mormon is a red herring. Although he joined another church for a short time, there is no evidence that he ever denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon, and many examples to the contrary.

Oliver reaffirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon even after he had joined the Methodists

For example, there is evidence that after leaving the Church and practicing law, Cowdery’s integrity was once challenged in court because of his Book of Mormon testimony. The opposing counsel thought he would say something that would overwhelm Oliver Cowdery, and in reply to him in his argument he alluded to him as the man that had testified and had written that he had beheld an angel of God, and that angel had shown unto him the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. He supposed, of course, that it would cover him with confusion, because Oliver Cowdery then made no profession of being a “Mormon,” or a Latter-day Saint; but instead of being affected by it in this manner, he arose in the court, and in his reply stated that, whatever his faults and weaknesses might be, the testimony which he had written, and which he had given to the world, was literally true.[6]

Oliver rejoined the Church and prepared to journey to Utah to unite with the main body of the Latter-day Saints when he suddenly became ill in Richmond Missouri. Oliver Cowdery had contracted tuberculosis. His dying breaths were spent testifying of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Lucy P. Young, his half-sister, was at his bedside and reported:

Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle.[7]

Oliver Cowdery: “My eyes saw, my ears heard…It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real”

Affidavit submitted by Jacob F. Gates:

Testimony of Jacob Gates.

My father, Jacob Gates, while on his way to England, in 1849, stopped at the town of Richmond, where lived at that time Oliver Cowdery. Hearing that Oliver was in poor health, and wishing to renew old acquaintance, as they had been friends in earlier days, father called on him at his home. Their conversation, during the visit drifted to early Church history, and to their mutual experiences during the troublous times in Missouri and Illinois. Finally father put this question to him: “Oliver,” said he, “I want you to tell me the whole truth about your testimony concerning the Book of Mormon—the testimony sent forth to the world over your signature and found in the front of that book. Was your testimony based on a dream, was it the imagination of your mind, was it an illusion, a myth—tell me truthfully?”

To question him thus seemed to touch Oliver very deeply. He answered not a word, but arose from his easy chair, went to the book case, took down a Book of Mormon of the first edition, turned to the testimony of the Three Witnesses, and read in the most solemn manner the words to which he had subscribed his name, nearly twenty years before. Facing my father, he said: “Jacob, I want you to remember what I say to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know,” said he, “that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real.”

Then father asked him about the angel under whose hands he received the priesthood, to which he made answer thus: “Jacob, I felt the hand of the angel on my head as plainly as I could feel yours, and could hear his voice as I now hear yours.”

Then father asked this question: “If all that you tell me is true, why did you leave the Church?” Oliver made only this explanation; said he: “When I left the Church, I felt wicked, I felt like shedding blood, but I have got all over that now.”

State of Utah, County of Salt Lake, ss. Jacob F. Gates, of Salt Lake City, Utah, being first duly sworn, deposes and says, that he is a citizen of the United States, of the age of fifty-seven years, and that he is the son of Jacob Gates, who, prior to his death, related to affiant a conversation which he had with Oliver Cowdery, at the town of Richmond, State of Missouri, and that the above and foregoing is a true and correct statement of said conversation as given to him by his father.

Subscribed and sworn to before me this 30th day of January, 1912. ARTHUR WINTERS, Notary Public.
My commission expires December 3, 1915.[8]

Scott H. Faulring, “The Return of Oliver Cowdery”

Scott H. Faulring,  The Disciple as Witness, (2000)

On Sunday, 12 November 1848, apostle Orson Hyde, president of the Quorum of the Twelve and the church’s presiding official at Kanesville-Council Bluffs, stepped into the cool waters of Mosquito Creek1 near Council Bluffs, Iowa, and took Mormonism’s estranged Second Elder by the hand to rebaptize him. Sometime shortly after that, Elder Hyde laid hands on Oliver’s head, confirming him back into church membership and reordaining him an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.2 Cowdery’s rebaptism culminated six years of desire on his part and protracted efforts encouraged by the Mormon leadership to bring about his sought-after, eagerly anticipated reconciliation. Cowdery, renowned as one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, corecipient of restored priesthood power, and a founding member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had spent ten and a half years outside the church after his April 1838 excommunication.

Oliver Cowdery wanted reaffiliation with the church he helped organize. His penitent yearnings to reassociate with the Saints were evident from his personal letters and actions as early as 1842. Oliver understood the necessity of rebaptism. By subjecting himself to rebaptism by Elder Hyde, Cowdery acknowledged the priesthood keys and authority held by the First Presidency under Brigham Young and the Twelve.

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[1] “Testimony of Jacob Gates.” 1912. Improvement Era 15, no. 5 (March): 419.
[2] Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 57. ISBN 0877478465.
[3] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 313.

[4] Smith, Teachings, 316.

[5] George Albert Smith, Sharing the Gospel with Others, comp. Preston Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1948), 12–13.

[6] George Q. Cannon, “The Abundant Testimonies to the Work of God, Etc., Journal of Discourses 22:254.
[7] Eldin Ricks, The Case of The Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 11.
[8] Improvement Era 15. 5 (March 1912)

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