Home teaching has a very definite place in the Lord s three-phase program for teaching and encouraging his people to live the gospel. As the first phase of the Lord s teaching program, he reveals the gospel to his prophets. Mormon says that God himself and angels sent by him declare “the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
Pursuant to this procedure, the Lord revealed the gospel to Adam in the first dispensation and to the Prophet Joseph Smith in this last dispensation.
In like manner he revealed the gospel to the prophets in every other dispensation between the time of Adam and that of the Prophet Joseph.
As the second phase of his teaching program, the Lord requires parents to teach the gospel to their children. To Adam he said: “… I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children.” (Moses 6:58.)
He has given similar instructions in every subsequent dispensation. Early in this last dispensation he said:
“… inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
“For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.
“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25–26, 28.)
Later on he reminded some of the leading brethren that they continued under condemnation and affliction because they had not brought up their children in “light and truth” as he had commanded them to do. (See D&C 93:39–50.)
For the third phase of his teaching program, the Lord has put the responsibility upon his church. To discharge this responsibility, the Church has organized and is now carrying on many institutions, organizations, and activities. Among them are priesthood quorums and priesthood meetings, sacrament meetings, genealogical and temple work, welfare and missionary activities, Church schools, institutes, seminaries, and auxiliary organizations and activities.
To encourage parents to teach the gospel in their homes, the Church has also prepared an excellent manual as a guide to be followed on family home evenings once a week.
Among the many programs and activities above mentioned, home teaching has not been named. Why? Because it must stand out in our understanding as being clearly distinguished from them.
Home teaching is not limited to a specific gospel principle or church activity. By divine injunction home teaching supports and sustains all home and church programs and activities for teaching the gospel.
What, then, is home teaching?
Home teaching, properly functioning, brings to the home of each member two priesthood bearers divinely commissioned and authoritatively called into the service by their priesthood leader and bishop. These home teachers—priesthood bearers—carry the heavy and glorious responsibility, of representing the Lord Jesus Christ in looking after the welfare of each member and of encouraging and inspiring every member to discharge his duty, both family and church.
Among the specific responsibilities of home teachers, the following may be listed:
First and foremost, to so live that they always enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost and act under his inspiration in the discharge of their home teaching responsibilities.
Second, to encourage and inspire every member to do his or her part to make and keep the home a truly Latter-day Saint home.
This would mean, among other things, that parents are sealed in the temple; that children not born under the covenant are sealed to parents; that future marriages are performed in the temple; that family prayers are regularly said night and morning; that secret prayers are said by every member with like consistency; that other gospel standards and practices are understood and complied with; that home evenings are regularly observed and the recommended lessons considered; that children are blessed and baptized in harmony with the revelations; that ordinations in the priesthood are merited and obtained in proper season; that priesthood bearers attend their priesthood meetings; that sacrament meeting attendance is regular; and that every member participate in the organizations and activities sponsored by the Church for his or her temporal and spiritual development.
Home teachers respond willingly and without constraint in the spirit of love to the needs and wishes of the family and each of its members; they respond likewise to the counsel of their bishop and priesthood leaders.
Home teachers are divinely commissioned, having been called into service by their priesthood leader after he has consulted and agreed with the bishop. They are guided in that service by the home teaching program sponsored and directed by the General Authorities of the Church, under the counsel of the First Presidency. The service itself, however, and the responsibility to perform it, did not originate in the minds of any of these servants of the Lord. It originated in the mind of the Lord himself and was revealed by him.
The responsibility to do home teaching is inherent in the call of every man to the Melchizedek Priesthood and in the call to the offices of teacher and priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. Every priesthood bearer, in order to magnify his calling according to the “oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood,” is obliged to respond to the home teaching call when it officially comes to him. The Lord himself has so stated in these words from the 20th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “The duty of the elders, priests, teachers … of the church of Christ—An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to … watch over the church.” (Verses 38, 42.) [D&C 20:38, 42]
“The priest’s duty is to … visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.
“In … these duties the priest is to assist the elder if occasion requires.” (Verses 46–47, 52.) [D&C 20:46–47, 52]
This statement—that the priest is to assist the elder in visiting the house of each member, exhorting them to pray and attend to all family duties—is tantamount to saying that these requirements are included in the elder’s charge to “watch over the church.” This charge also includes the specific responsibilities of the teacher:
“The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;
“And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;
“And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.” (Verses 53–55.) [D&C 20:53–55]
The Lord must have given the elders of the apostolic church similar responsibilities, because Peter wrote:
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
“Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (1 Pet. 5:1–4.)
Not only is home teaching a divine call; it is also universal, so far as Melchizedek Priesthood bearers and priests and teachers are concerned.
I have searched the scriptures in vain to find an exemption from home teaching for any such priesthood bearer who is regularly called to the service. Our home teaching manual, issued over the signatures of the First Presidency, says: “Any worthy elder, seventy, or high priest may be called to serve as a senior companion in the Home Teaching program. … the bishop may call as a junior Home Teaching companion another Melchizedek Priesthood member [or] an Aaronic Priesthood member. …” (Home Teaching, p. A-3.)
In 1914, when President Joseph F. Smith was putting great emphasis upon home teaching, he said in April conference:
“We have had called to our attention, recently, the fact that some men who are of long standing in the Church—indeed, some of them born and reared in the Church, and who are occupying prominent positions in some of the quorums of the Priesthood—when their presidents or their bishops of the wards in which they live call upon them to visit the Saints, teach the principles of the gospel and perform the duties of teachers, they coolly inform their bishops that they have graduated from that calling and refuse to act as teachers. Brother Charles W. Penrose is eighty-two years of age. I am going on seventy-six, and I believe that I am older than several of these good men who have graduated from the duties in the lesser Priesthood, and I want to tell them and you that we are not too old to act as teachers, if you will call us to do it—not one of us. There is never a time, there never will come a time to those who hold the Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when men can say of themselves that they have done enough. So long as life lasts, and so long as we possess ability to do good, to labor for the upbuilding of Zion, and for the benefit of the human family, we ought, with willingness, to yield with alacrity to the requirements made of us to do our duty, little or great.” (Gospel Doctrine [Deseret Book Co., 1968], p. 188.)
To illustrate how seriously and literally the brethren took this assignment in the early days of the Church, I quote the following statement of Elder William Cahoon, who joined the Church October 16, 1830, just six and a half months after the revelation that set forth the home teaching responsibility was received.
“I was called and ordained to act as a teacher to visit the families of the Saints. I got along very well till I found that I was obliged to call and pay a visit to the Prophet. Being young, only about seventeen years of age, I felt my weakness in visiting the Prophet and his family in the capacity of a teacher. I almost felt like shrinking from duty. [To a degree I can appreciate the feelings of this young man, for in my youth I was once assigned as a teacher to the home of President Joseph F. Smith.] Finally I went to his door and knocked, and in a minute the Prophet came to the door. I stood there trembling, and said to him:
“‘Brother Joseph, I have come to visit you in the capacity of a teacher, if it is convenient for you.’
“He said, ‘Brother William, come right in, I am glad to see you; sit down in that chair there and I will go and call my family in.’
“They soon came in and took seats. He then said, ‘Brother William, I submit myself and family into your hands,’ and then took his seat. ‘Now Brother William,’ said he, ‘ask all the questions you feel like.’
“By this time all my fears and trembling had ceased, and I said, ‘Brother Joseph, are you trying to live your religion?’
“He answered, ‘Yes.’
“Then I said, ‘Do you pray in your family?’
“He said, ‘Yes.’
“‘Do you teach your family the principles of the gospel?’
“He replied, ‘Yes, I am trying to do it.’
“‘Do you ask a blessing on your food?’
“He answered, ‘Yes.’
“‘Are you trying to live in peace and harmony with all your family?’
“He said that he was.
“I turned to Sister Emma, his wife, and said, ‘Sister Emma, are you trying to live your religion? Do you teach your children to obey their parents? Do you try to teach them to pray?’
“To all these questions, she answered, ‘Yes, I am trying to do so.’
“I then turned to Joseph and said, ‘I am now through with my questions as a teacher; and now if you have any instructions to give, I shall be happy to receive them.’
“He said, ‘God bless you, Brother William; and if you are humble and faithful, you shall have power to settle all difficulties that may come before you in the capacity of a teacher.’
“I then left my parting blessing upon him and his family, as a teacher, and took my departure.” (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 27, pp. 491–92.)
The Presidents of the Church have always taken home teaching seriously.
President McKay has said: “Home teaching is one of our most urgent and most rewarding opportunities to nurture and inspire, to counsel and direct our Father’s children. … [It] is a divine service, a divine call. It is our duty as Home Teachers to carry the divine spirit into every home and heart. To love the work and do our best will bring unbounded peace, joy and satisfaction to a noble, dedicated teacher of God’s children.”
I feel that the time has come for each bearer of the priesthood to put on the full armor of Christ with respect to home teaching; to stand up like a man of God and do his duty by visiting the home of every member entrusted to his care, as often as is necessary; and to encourage and inspire him to live his life as the Lord would have him live it.
If we would so render this service as to receive from the Master the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” we must perform it not only as a duty, but, in the true spirit of our beloved Savior, out of a dedicated love and real concern for the eternal lives of one another.