Apostles from Manti Predict End
By Eric Johnson
The world as we know it is coming to an end, possibly beginning as soon as
this fall (1999), according to the leaders of The True and Living Church of
Jesus Christ of Saints of The Last Days (TLC) based in Manti, Utah.
Prophet James Harmston and his apostles have always held a fascination with
end-times theology, which is evident in the last part of the church's title.
The TLC is a Mormon splinter group that was officially founded in 1994 as a
response to the "falling away" of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, an organization that TLC leaders say has
abandoned some of the essential teachings of early Mormon presidents Joseph
Smith and Brigham Young.
Only half a decade after its founding, TLC leaders are claiming that Jesus is
ready to return to Manti in order to set up the kingdom of God, thus
commencing the end of all time and concluding the current world system. TLC
leaders also teach that, just as Noah and his family resided on the ark to be
saved from the cataclysmic flood waters, those who belong to the TLC will be
saved from the certain and imminent disasters that lie ahead.
Although this group has been marked with controversy ever since it was
officially founded in 1994, the TLC certainly maintains a visible presence in
Manti, which is in the heart of Sanpete County. This is true even during the
annual Mormon Miracle Pageant that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to
Manti. Until this year, the church, which is prominently headquartered in a
bright red brick building located in the center of Manti's Main Street, had
its doors open and a big sign on the sidewalk inviting visitors to come
inside and see what this faith was all about.
The church of 350 members has not tried to hide its unique belief system,
including polygamy and its exclusive claim to truth. Leaders actively shared
their truth with the media, especially on local and national television
shows, including ABC's 20/20 newsmagazine and the Leeza talk show (where the
ratings were some of the highest ever in the history of this program). In
addition, television crews from such countries as England, France, Israel,
Germany, and Spain have produced documentaries on this religion.
This all stopped on April 15, 1999, when the church leaders were told by God
to withdraw from such activities, including actively witnessing to the
According to the church's newsletter entitled The Manti Times & Seasons (Vol.
2, No. 1, June 1, 1999, p. 3), the group's responsibility to warn this
generation has ended. It said:
"Now that the time allotted by the Lord for us to warn this wicked and
unbelieving generation is complete, it is time for the fulfillment of the
prophecies of the Lord's 'great and dreadful' chastisements which are soon to
be poured out upon the peoples of the earth, and more particularly,
Latter-day Israel for their apostasy, blindness, stiff-neckedness, and
hardheartedness to see, understand, and do the things of the Lord."
The church's web site which had been a mainstay on the Internet
(http://www.tlcmanti.org/) for more than three years with pictures, articles,
and other pertinent information has also been shut down, with the exception
of a simple statement on the site's home page of the site. It reads in
"God has commanded us by revelation to cease our labors of preaching and
warning to errant Israel and the nations of the earth. The day has now
arrived that God has shut the mouths of His servants and will begin to do His
own work of rendering judgment and calamity upon the wicked generation and
boarded the Ark. It is now time for the rains of destruction to begin to
consume the nations of the earth. We pray for the Elect who have been slow to
hear, that they will be spared and delivered when the great day of the
Almighty punishes the wicked and rebellious."
During our outreach in Manti last June, I had the opportunity to speak at
length with Bart Malstrom and John Harper, two of the 12 TLC apostles.
Although I was told that several nationwide news organizations have attempted
to interview these leaders during the past few months, the media have been
denied by a once-public church.
The Early History of the TLC
The TLC began in 1990 when James D. Harmston, now 59 years old, moved from
Ogden, Utah to Manti. On November 25, 1990, the prophet was sitting in a
specific chair in his home when he claims he had an out-of-body experience.
Hovering in spirit above the chair, Harmston could see himself in the chair
surrounded by four angels: Abraham, Enoch, Moses, and Noah.
The time of his revelation couldn't have come at a riper time for yet another
Mormon splinter group to be formed. Crucial changes had been made to the
secret LDS ordinance ceremony in the spring of 1990, fueling the curiosity of
those looking for more pure authority of the keys left behind by Joseph Smith
and Brigham Young. Because the temple ceremony was not supposed to be changed
except by revelation, many Mormons became dissatisfied with the change in
According to the TLC pamphlet The Gathering, these changes left the LDS
Church "in utter apostasy and ripe for God's wrath and vengeance to be poured
out upon them" (p. 12). Both Malstrom and Harper are ex-Mormons who agreed
that this was a reason to leave the LDS Church behind.
"The (LDS) leaders basically cut Christ out of the endowment (ceremony),"
Malstrom said. Added Harper, "They removed so many key elements. If it was
the same since the time of Adam, it must have had some significance."
The TLC began unofficially in the summer of 1991 when a group of people who
were interested in finding the deeper meaning to the religion of Joseph Smith
attended a Gospel study led by Harmston. According to Harper, Harmston whose
disdain for Mormons is widely known, including having called them "morons" in
one meeting had "had his fill of organized religion" and was poised to begin
By the summer of 1994, the TLC had grown from a loose organization to one
that was ready to be officially organized with 120 members. Soon after it was
organized, the church split when the appointed council could not agree on
some important issues. Yet the remnant was convinced that the LDS Church was
no longer true.
Harmston taught that the 100-year period of LDS Church apostasy began in 1890
with the announcement of the Manifesto, a document denouncing polygamy as
issued by fourth President Wilford Woodruff. With the changes in the temple
ceremony, the apostasy was complete, and a new organization needed to be
formed in order to continue the true church to the very end of time.
Harmston became the "President of the High Priesthood," the highest position
in the "Church of the Firstborn," and 12 apostles were chosen. Everything
done by the leaders of the church is an attempt to get back at the original
Mormon Church's roots.
The Apostasy of the LDS Church
TLC leaders have written 11 pamphlets to help explain the beliefs of this
church. Almost every one of these short booklets, which range from 14 to 36
pages, includes a comment about its disagreement with the Mormon Church of
today. For example:
"We, as Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, bear solemn witness that the LDS
Church has gone whoring after Babylon and the vain things of the world, has
built up the kingdom of the devil, and apostatized from her earlier mission
and charge... Because of these rebellions and iniquities, she will be
destroyed when the fierce and just judgments of God are poured out on the
wicked of the earth. The only thing for true Saints to do is to forsake her
and get out of her" (Law of Gathering, pp. 25, 26).
"We bear solemn testimony that the LDS Church, leaders and people, and all
those who have abandoned these principles of the Restored Gospel are in a
state of rebellion against the Lord and, are therefore, under condemnation
for violating the praise of the world and the honors of men instead of
seeking the welfare of Zion" (Upon My House Shall it be Built, p. 6, emphasis
In fact, the TLC leaders believe that they have taken over the role of God's
representative upon the face of the earth.
"There is very little Priesthood left in the LDS Church, and none at all
among its leaders. Every warning they have received, they have rejected, and
the Priesthood has been withdrawn by God. Another people have been raised up,
a people who will live every part of the restored Gospel. We are that people"
(A Warning Testimony, p. 36).
The importance of the "gathering of the elect" is stressed. This entails
moving to Sanpete County:
"We know by the Spirit that the Sanpete valley in Utah has a manifest destiny
in the work of the Lord, and we testify that great and marvelous events will
yet transpire in this prophetic valley... This valley will serve as a
temporary refuge for the righteous while great destructions occur in all the
land. That righteous remnant of the elect are already gathering to this place
to fulfill the covenants they have made with God before they came to earth."
(The Gathering of the Elect, p. 7).
According to the TLC leaders, the LDS Church no longer has its authority
partly based on the fact that it is not a "gathering" organization.
The Doctrines of Old
Because the LDS Church has fallen into apostasy, it has forgotten many of the
truths that marked its beginnings. Unique TLC doctrines include:
TLC leaders are quick to chastise those who have "fallen" away from the above
eternal principles. If the gathering of the elect is really to take place,
"the principles of Zion are in the process of implementation. These laws must
be lived before the coming of the Lord" (Zion vs. Babylon, p. 30, emphasis
- the Standard Works are the Bible (the Joseph Smith Translation), the 1830
edition of the Book of Mormon, and the 1835 Lectures on Faith, which are
preferred to the LDS scriptures Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great
- The pre-1890 original teachings of the LDS Church leadership. Special
emphasis is given to second President Brigham Young. For instance, the TLC
accepts the Adam-God teaching rejected by the Mormon Church.
- Multiple mortal probations.
- The end of the world as we know it is near.
Polygamy: A Doctrine of Great Importance
The doctrine for which the TLC is most known is polygamy. Of course, this
aspect of their faith is the reason why the media are attracted to the TLC
story. This teaching is a requirement every person must obey in this life.
"It is necessary that a man must enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant
of Marriage. If he does not, he cannot obtain the highest degree of the
Celestial Kingdom. His eternal progress is stopped; he cannot have an
increase"...plural marriage is necessary to obtain exaltation" (A Warning
Testimony, pp. 16-17).
Responding to a quote from LDS Apostle James Talmage who said that celestial
marriage was never an essential requirement, the TLC apostles wrote:
"Dr. Talmage was either doctrinally ignorant or a deliberate liar. But
Talmage's view of the plurality of wives as non-essential is the view the LDS
Church takes today. Modern LDS leaders must be doctrinally ignorant or
deliberate liars, because they teach a false Church history" (A Warning
Testimony, p. 18).
It is not uncommon to see husbands boldly walking through the streets of
Manti holding the hands of two wives, with another wife or two in tow. They
do not appear to be bashful about this practice, and they even sell T-shirts
proclaiming, tongue-in-cheek, "Help Stamp out Monogamy."
Towering 6-foot-6 Apostle Bart Malstrom is a firm believer in the doctrine.
He is married to three wives, although he had as many as five wives two years
ago. One wife ended up leaving him, taking her children from a previous
marriage with her, and his former third wife Monique, the younger sister to
his fourth wife Nicole, left him earlier this year.
Bart, who is 40 years old, has 11 children. Two of his wives are currently
pregnant. The families live on what some might call a "compound" in Fairview,
almost an hour away from Manti in the Sanpete valley. With several buildings,
Bart's families are able to spread out and run their herbal vitamin business.
Meanwhile, 40-year-old Apostle John Harper, who had been a fifth-generation
Mormon until he lost his LDS membership in 1992 also has three wives,
marrying his last wife Randi two years ago. He has nine children and three
separate homes. He admits that being married to three women can be trying at
times, especially since they are all human beings. Jealousy is something that
the wives must deal with, and he said that Randi had a hard time adjusting to
her new surroundings. But it's all worth it, he says. "Living higher laws may
not be easy, but we need them so we can qualify for a better place of
living," he said. "This is a telestial world, so it's Satan's world."
The two apostles say that the women are not treated as second-class citizens,
as many critics may think. They claim they are:
Since polygamy is officially illegal and is generally a repulsive idea for
most Americans, it appears that the majority of Manti's residents are not
happy that this group of polygamists is so open about this teaching. The
legal authorities appear to leave the TLC members alone since putting the
husband in jail for this "unenforceable felony" would mean there would be a
further drain on the already-overextended welfare system.
- taught to be independent thinkers; their husband's most important
- women of God, not baby factories;
- queens and priestesses;
- not merely subservient women who always are walking two steps behind.
The church also keeps the plural marriages off the city's legal books.
Although Bart and John are officially married to their first wives, the other
two wives were married in the church only. This is a cause for some pretty
sticky situations. For instance, TLC member John Pratt the great great
grandson of original Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt left his legal wife and
two children to marry his wife Tammy last year. Tammy left her legal husband
and their three children as well. While John later divorced his wife, Tammy
is still legally married to her "former" husband.
They consider their union to be righteous before the eyes of God since their
TLC baptism covenant did away with "all old covenants." However, John says
that he "would welcome [his] wife back" if she would repent and embrace the
As far as the treatment of the women is concerned, it is a rare situation to
hear a polygamous wife publicly complain. In fact, the women with whom we
have talked say that plural marriage is a positive aspect to their lives.
Every member is family, including the other wives and their children, they
generally call their husband's other spouses "sister wives."
One of the positive aspects of this arrangement is that the housework roles
can be distributed. A woman who enjoys doing the cooking may take the
ownership of this job and allow another wife to take care of the laundry.
Some families switch duties to lessen the monotony. Child-caring
responsibilities are usually shared.
As far as the sexual relationship, each family unit makes its own
arrangement. One husband says he allows his wives to choose with whom he will
sleep each night. Bart, on the other hand, is more systematic, allowing the
wives to take turns and giving each one two nights in a row in Bart's room
while the other wives watch the woman's children.
Multiple Mortal Probations and the Work with the Dead
Even more interesting than polygamy is the doctrine of multiple mortal
probations, which became part of Harmston's theology in 1992. According to
this important TLC doctrine, everyone on this earth has lived a number of
lives before his current life. Some have dubious backgrounds while others
come from pedigrees most respected and refined. How you live one life will
have an impact on how you will live your next, and like the actors of old who
played numerous roles by switching masks, so too do TLC members take their
character traits with them to the next life.
While this may appear to be a type of reincarnation, TLC leaders make it very
clear that they do not believe in Hinduism or New Age thought. They take this
"buried doctrine" straight from a secret teaching of Joseph Smith, who kept
it hidden, say Malstrom and Harper, because "higher doctrine like this would
get people killed in Smith's day."
Calling this belief the "glue that holds the gospel together," Malstrom said
that the discovery of this doctrine "was like someone took a load off of my
back. To know this gave me the confidence to be who I am."
The TLC members learn about their former lives through "patriarchal
blessings" given by the church partriarch, Apostle Phil Savage. Although this
is a subject that the two apostles don't like to brag about or dote on for
too long a time, they are willing to talk about their past lives.
Harmston was Joseph Smith in one of his previous lives, and his TLC apostles
were apostles of both Jesus as well as Joseph Smith. Bart, for instance,
believes he was Apostle Parley P. Pratt as well as the biblical Matthew.
Meanwhile, John claims that he was Willard Richards as well as the biblical
When John understood that he was Thomas in a previous life, it made sense to
him since he says he is naturally skeptical. However, the memories of a
previous life can be quite selective. For instance, John says that he does
not remember calling Jesus "My Lord and My God" in the John 20 passage. Adds
Bart, "A couple of thousand years makes things a little fuzzy."
Neither Bart nor John will actively role-play the characters of their
previous lives, but they will talk about their previous lives and recount
events that they do remember. In effect, it is possible to ask them questions
as if you were addressing the Matthew or Thomas directly, and they will
readily answer you according to their memories.
Although it is a church of less than 400 members, the TLC has many famous
people represented in its congregation due to "previous probations." For
instance, there are many former religious movers and shakers who are now
alive as TLC members. Represented in this church are Martin Luther and John
Calvin along with other Reformers and important Christian leaders.
Another integral TLC doctrine is the work done on behalf of the dead. While
the LDS Church baptizes by proxy in its temples for thousands of people every
day, Mormons make no effort to get permission from the deceased to see if
they even want such an ordinance performed on their behalf. The TLC, on the
other hand, has performed 19,000 baptisms by proxy, every one for a dead
person who was personally interviewed by church leaders and members.
They "pray and interview the dead," John said. "It's not a séance." It is
then determined whether or not the spirit wants to have this ordinance
performed. This can be a very emotional time, as the dead spirits can speak,
sometimes through other people in the room. Added Bart, "You know somebody
else is in there."
The Final Destructive Judgment
The TLC leaders have always emphasized the end times. In Book of Mormon
Warning, one of the church's pamphlets, it reads on page 1:
"We must understand that in these last days we are on a virtual parallel with
the history and events of the people of the Book of Mormon. God's dealings
have always been focused on His covenant people, the House of Israel; and
today is no different. The Latter-day Saints are God's covenant people. That
status is a good thing when people keep their covenants and serve God. It is
a disastrous predicament when God's chosen people stray from their covenants
and disobey His commandments."
Another pamphlet, Upon My House Shall It Begin, says on page 1:
"In these last days, He has warned us of the destructions to come. He has not
left us in ignorance. We have the words and prophesies of the prophets of
this and other dispensations warning us, the children of Israel, of the
destructions that await the wicked among us if we will not repent."
On April 10, 1999, a two-day class entitled "Models" was interrupted after
the first day, and church leaders decided not to finish it. There were some
visitors, some from as far away as Florida, but something occurred that was
too clear for the church leaders to ignore. The leaders then gathered
together in a quorum meeting, where warnings were given, and a decision to
shut down contact with the media, including the Internet web site, was made.
In a nutshell, the TLC holds to a pre-millennial, post-tribulational
viewpoint. Jesus will return to Manti, take over His church, and only those
who belong to this organization will be part of the reestablishment of God's
Bart and John fully expect the beginning of the end to start sometime this
fall. How it will happen, they are not quite sure, but what is evident to
them is that the most awful, prophesied destructive last day events will
begin to occur, letting the non-TLC world know that their abandonment of God
According to the TLC pamphlet entitled Gathering, this destruction will
include earthquakes, cataclysms, war, invasion, bondage, famine, pestilence,
drought, sickness, economic distress, floods, fires, and disturbances.
"Today's latter-day counterpart people are not excluded from the impending
fulfillment of these same destructions; and given the current general state
of apostasy of the Lord's chosen people, they can reasonably expect the wrath
of the Lord in like manner" (p. 9).
At the end of the millenium, Satan will be loosed, Jesus Christ will play the
role of Adam once again, and then a new world will be established. In
essence, there are eternal worlds, and so when this world wraps up, life will
begin all over again on another world. This will be the process for the
eternal worlds to come. What must a person do to escape such a fate? Page 15
of the same pamphlet reads:
"Read all of the pamphlets produced by The True and Living Church of Jesus
Christ of Saints of the Last Days. Then, with a sincere heart, with real
intent, pray to God about the message contained therein."
A Controversial Church
While there are numerous doctrines that are most unique to the TLC, it seems
the sociological issues such as polygamy and membership requirements are what
infuriates most non-members.
Rodney Clowdus, an ex-member, obtained a 3½-hour video of Harmston's
teaching from a February 1998 meeting and released it to the public along
with an audiotape he secretly made where the TLC prophet admitted to taking a
16-year-old bride, saying she was not a good lover but that "she's the most
cuddling thing you ever saw in all your life." He also said LDS Apostle Boyd
K. Packer's "skin is going to be turned as black as coal" when he is "taken
down." He knows it, he said, "because I am the one that's going to make it
that way!" (Salt Lake Tribune, April 26, 1998, p. B1).
The way the church handles its finances is certainly a concern for those
outside the organization. According to Bart, a person becomes a member of
this religion upon baptism. However, the individual needs to be willing to
consecrate, or give up, his possessions to the church as a "freewill
donation" like "any other church."
Bart claims that "there is no property in the name of the TLC at this point."
However, church influence is prominent at the Manti Campground, formerly the
Yogi Bear Jellystone Park, located just north of the Manti temple. According
to Dan Simmons, who is the president of the TLC, the campground is "church
owned" even though it is listed in one of its member's names.
Several former members have also criticized the church for the way it handles
money. This summer I was witnessing in the streets of Manti when I came
across a former member, a gentleman in his 50s who admitted to giving the
leaders of TLC over $100,000. Despite having been a member for only several
months, he has no recourse to get a refund. His only regret is not that he
gave his money away, but that he gave it to the wrong people.
Other ex-members have taken their cases to court in an attempt to get their
money back. In 1998, three former members sued Harmston for a quarter of a
million dollars that they gave to the church because they were convinced the
TLC prophet was the only way they would be able to meet Jesus Christ. Cindy
Stewart, one of the plaintiffs, said, "You think we're insane? Maybe we were.
But we've woken up."
Is the TLC a different kind of a religion? Are the doctrines taught in the
red-bricked building unique? Should we be concerned about the apocalyptic
nature of this group? The answer to each of these questions is certainly a
resounding and emphatic "YES!" At the same time, this is a group of people,
like the LDS people, who deserve our compassion.
Getting to know Bart, John, and other members of the group has been
fascinating, to say the least. Yes, they are polygamous, a revolting idea for
our Western mindset. Yes, they have some unique ideas of how the end of the
world will occur. But most of all, yes, they are in need of a saving
relationship with the true and living Jesus Christ as revealed in the pages
of the Bible. Lest we forget, this is what can happen when God's Word is
replaced with the feelings of sinful man.