Oliver Cowdery Falls Away From The Church

All three witness fall away from the church but never deny their testimony regarding the plates

A) Oliver Cowdery

Oliver Cowdery was excommunicated from the church on April 11, 1838 in Far West, Missouri. Neither the prophet nor Oliver was not in attendance at his excommunication. The decision was made by the high council of the church at Far West. Although two years earlier he stood by the prophet as they witnessed the return of Elias, Elijah, and Moses in the Kirtland Temple (DC 110), Oliver had exhibited the spirit of apostasy. He disagreed with the prophet regarding the rights of the church to advise the members on the handling of their property, etc. The following is a list of grievances which were procured against Oliver:

"Elder Seymour Brunson preferred the following charges against Oliver Cowdery, to the High Council at Far West:

"To the Bishop and Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I prefer the following charges against President Oliver Cowdery:

"First-For persecuting the brethren by urging on vexatious law suits against them, and thus distressing the innocent.

"Second-For seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith, Jun., by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery.

"Third-For treating the Church with contempt by not attending meetings.

"Fourth-For virtually denying the faith by declaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority or revelations whatever, in his temporal affairs.

"Fifth-For selling his lands in Jackson county, contrary to the revelations.

"Sixth-For writing and sending an insulting letter to President Thomas B. Marsh, while the latter was on the High Council, attending to the duties of his office as President of the Council, and by insulting the High Council with the contents of said letter.

"Seventh-For leaving his calling to which God had appointed him by revelation, for the sake of filthy lucre, and turning to the practice of law.

"Eighth-For disgracing the Church by being connected in the bogus business, as common report says.

"Ninth-For dishonestly retaining notes after they had been paid; and finally, for leaving and forsaking the cause of God, and returning to the beggarly elements of the world, and neglecting his high and holy calling, according to his profession."

"The Bishop and High Council assembled at the Bishop's office, April 12, 1838. After the organization of the Council, the above charges of the 11th instant were read, also a letter from Oliver Cowdery, as will be found recorded in the Church record of the city of Far West, Book A. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 9th charges were sustained. The 4th and 5th charges were rejected, and the 6th was withdrawn. Consequently he (Oliver Cowdery) was considered no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (History of the Church, vol III, p. 16-7)

Oliver had written a letter that was read during his court. He was apparently not in attendance. Portions of the letter read as follows:

                                                          "FAR WEST, MISSOURI, APRIL 12,1838

Dear sir:--I received your note of the 9th inst., on the day of its date, containing a copy of nine charges preferred before yourself and Council against me, By Elder Seymour Brunson.

"I could have wished that those charges might have been deferred until after my interview with President Smith; but as they are not, I must waive the anticipated pleasure with which I had flattered myself of an understanding on those points which are grounds of different opinions on some Church regulations, and others which personally interest myself.

"The fifth charge reads as follows: 'For selling his lands in Jackson County contrary to the revelations.' So much of this charge, 'for selling his lands in Jackson County,' I acknowledge to be true, and believe that a large majority of this Church have already spent their judgment on that act, and pronounced it sufficient to warrant a disfellowship; and also that you have concurred in its correctness, consequently, have no good reason for supposing you would give any decision contrary....

"The fourth charge is in the following words, 'For virtually denying the faith by declaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority nor revelation whatever in his temporal affairs....

"With regard to this, I think I am warranted in saying, the judgment is also passed as on the matter of the fifth charge, consequently, I have no disposition to contend with the Council....the three great principles of English liberty, as laid down in the books, are 'the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property.'....they are so woven into my nature...that I am wholly unwilling to exchange them for anything less liberal, less benevolent, or less free.

"The very principle of which I conceive to be couched in an attempt to set up a kind of petty government, controlled and dictated by ecclesiastical influence, in the midst of this national and state government. You will, no doubt, say this is not correct; but the bare notice of these charges, over which you assume a right to decide, is in my opinion, a direct attempt to make the secular power subservient to Church direction-to the correctness of which I cannot in conscience subscribe-I believe that principle never did fail to produce anarchy and confusion.

"This attempt to control me in my temporal interests, I conceive to be a disposition to take from me a portion of my Constitutional privileges and inherent right-I only, respectfully, ask leave, therefore, to withdraw from a society assuming they have such right.....

"With considerations of the highest respect, I am, your obedient servant,

                                                            [signed]          OLIVER COWDERY"

(History of the Church, footnote, p. 17-18)

This interchange is interesting because it shows that Oliver did have a rebellious spirit. He was a man of dignity and pride, But beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation (DC 23:1). As the second Elder of the Church, it was probably hard for him to stomach taking these charges from the high council at Far West. He might have felt like he was above that church body. He certainly felt (maybe rightfully so) that if he could have had an interview with the prophet that all conflicts could have been resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Joseph did not come to Oliver to try to patch things up. He let the decision of the high council stand rather than overturn its decisions and undermine its authority. Later, Oliver recounted his feelings at this time:

"Upon carefully inquiring as to his long absence from the body of the Church, he stated that he had never met the Prophet Joseph, after his expulsion from the Church, while he lived, apparently feeling that the Prophet could with equal propriety inquire after him as for him to visit the Prophet, and as his pride would seemingly not allow him to become suppliant without that inquiry, it was never made; while he felt quite sure that had he ever met the Prophet there would have been no difficulty in cheering a reconciliation, as a feeling of jealousy towards him, on the part of his accusers, had entered largely into their purpose of having him removed, which he thought Joseph must have discovered after going up to Missouri." (Samuel W. Richards, "Oliver Cowdery," The Improvement Era, p. 94 as taken from The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Eldin Ricks, p. 11)

In spite of the fact that no resolution between Oliver and the church came for another 10 years, during that interval, he remained true to the testimony he gave regarding the plates. The following incident is instructive:          

"A gentleman in Michigan said to him, when he was pleading law, 'Mr. Cowdery, I see your name attached to this book; if you believe it to be true, why are you in Michigan?' The gentleman read over the names of the witnesses, and said, 'Mr. Cowdery, do you believe this book?' 'No, sir,' replied Oliver Cowdery. 'That is very well, but your name is attached to it, and you say that you saw an angel, and the plates from which this book is said to be translated, and now you say that you do not believe it. Which time was you right?' Mr. Cowdery replied, 'There is my name attached to that book, and what I have there said that I saw, I know that I saw, and belief has nothing to do with it, for knowledge has swallowed up the belief that I had in the work, since I know it is true.'" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:257-8 as taken from Testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Preston Nibley)

In 1848, Oliver and his family return to the church:

"In October 1848, Oliver Cowdery, with his wife and daughter, arrived at Council Bluffs, Iowa, the gathering place of the Saints who were preparing to make the long journey across the plains to Utah. Here he requested of Orson Hyde, who was presiding over that branch at the time, the privilege of again being baptized into the Church. At a special conference of the members held on October 21st [1848], the request was granted and shortly afterwards Oliver Cowdery was baptized by Orson Hyde.

"In the spring of 1849, Oliver Cowdery expressed the desire to visit with his wife's family in Richmond, Missouri, before undertaking the long journey across the plains. Accordingly, the trip was made to that place, and there, as a guest of his father-in-law, Peter Whitmer, in whose home near Waterloo, New York, the Church had been organized, he spent several pleasant months. As the result of a severe cold, contracted sometime during 1849, he became infected with the dreaded disease known then as 'consumption,' which brought about his death on March 3, 1850. Oliver Cowdery, at the time, was a few months past his 43rd birthday." (Preston Nibley, Testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p.41)

"...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."

"To the foregoing I add a statement by David Whitmer. Although himself outside the Church at the time he wrote these words, Whitmer says, 'I was present at the death of Oliver Cowdery, and his last words were, 'Brother David, be true to your testimony to the Book of Mormon.' He died here in Richmond, Mo. on March 3d, 1850.'" (Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p. 11-2)