The Temple Lot church shares its early history with the larger Latter Day Saint denominations, including the LDS Church and the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church). After the death of Joseph Smith, the Latter Day Saint movement's founder, on June 27, 1844, several leaders vied for control and established rival organizations. By the 1860s, five early Mormon branches found themselves unaffiliated with any larger group. Located in Bloomington, Illinois; Crow Creek, Illinois; Half Moon Prairie, Illinois; Eagle Creek, Illinois; and Vermillion, Indiana, these branches united under the leadership of Granville Hedrick in May 1863. On July 18, 1863, Hedrick was ordained as "President, Prophet, Seer and Revelator". Participating in Hedrick's ordination was John E. Page who had been an apostle under Smith. The Temple Lot church affirms a founding date of April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York, and claims to be the sole legitimate continuance of Smith's original Church of Christ. Hedrick later distanced himself from the title of "President", as he ultimately came to believe that this was an unscriptural office.
At the time of its commencement in 1863, Hedrick retained the name of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" for his organization, reflecting his insistence that it was a continuation of Smith's church, which had adopted that name in 1838. This was soon shortened to "Church of Christ", however, as this had been the name under which Smith originally incorporated the church in 1830. Hedrick also wished to distinguish his church from the LDS Church in Utah. The parenthetical "(Temple Lot)", while not part of the legal name of the church, is usually appended to the name to distinguish the church from the many other Latter Day Saint and non–Latter Day Saint churches that use the name "Church of Christ".
First Hedrickite meetinghouse on the Temple Lot
The church currently occupies a property in Independence, Missouri, known as the Temple Lot. This grassy, 2-acre (8,100 m2) plot is considered by Latter Day Saints of nearly all persuasions to be the site designated by Smith for the temple of the New Jerusalem, a sacred city to be built preparatory to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Hedrickites returned to Independence in 1867 to purchase the designated lot for this temple, and the church has been headquartered there ever since. In 1891, the church was sued by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now called the Community of Christ, for title to the Temple Lot. The RLDS Church won at trial, but this decision was reversed on appeal. In the 1930s, the Temple Lot church excavated the site in an attempt to build a temple, but their efforts stalled because of the Great Depression and internal disputes, and the excavation was filled in 1946. The lot was re-landscaped, and is today occupied only by the church's headquarters and a few trees in its northeast corner. No further plans to erect such an edifice have been announced.
In July 1898, W. D. C. Pattison, a suspended member of the LDS Church from Boston, Massachusetts, was arrested and briefly detained after attempting to remove a fence placed around the Temple Lot. Late in the following month, he reportedly demanded that church officials sign ownership of the property over to him because he believed he was the "One Mighty and Strong". He was detained by police but released a few days later. Early on September 5, 1898, he set fire to the tiny headquarters building, and then walked to the police station and turned himself in. After he testified in court appearances in November 1898, Pattison was found guilty but insane and sentenced to a stay in a mental institution. The building was reconstructed in 1905.
On January 1, 1990, a member of the Church of Christ who had recently joined the LDS Church set fire to the unoccupied church building on the Temple Lot, claiming that his actions were part of a political protest and a prophecy that war was coming to America. The fire caused significant damage to the second story of the building, although the first floor containing church records and documents remained intact. On February 1, 1990, the remainder of the building was razed. Construction of a new headquarters building began in August 1990. The man was convicted by a jury of second-degree arson and breaking and entering on January 16, 1991.
In 1929, the Temple Lot church split between adherents and opponents of a series of "messages" allegedly given by John the Baptist to Otto Fetting, an apostle of the church. While the first eleven of these missives were accepted by the Temple Lot membership, the twelfth was rejected, leading Fetting to withdraw with a portion of the membership and found The Church of Christ (Fettingite). The Temple Lot organization retained the church name and properties, including the Temple Lot.
Fetting's organization later divided after his death into three factions: the first followed the teachings of apostle S. T. Bronson and accepted a Saturday Sabbath; the second rejected Bronson's teachings while remaining faithful to Fetting's. The third faction was composed of adherents of William A. Draves, who claimed that the "Messenger" was appearing to him after Fetting's death. Draves's adherents would form the Church of Christ with the Elijah Message, which later gave birth to other sects.
Another sect breaking with the Temple Lot church was the Church of Christ (Hancock), founded in 1946 by Pauline Hancock, who had resigned from the Temple Lot church due to her disagreements with that organization over its teachings on the Godhead. This church initially accepted only the King James Bible and Book of Mormon as scripture, though it rejected the latter in 1973 and formally dissolved itself in 1984. Hancock was the first woman to found and lead a church in the Latter Day Saint movement.
Although all of these sects (with the exception of the last) have similar core beliefs—reflected in their use of the same "Articles of Faith and Practice"—none of them recognizes the others as legitimate.