Lesson 1: Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999), 1–5


Purpose

To introduce class members to this year’s study of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history and to help them understand their place in the dispensation of the fulness of times.

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Prayerfully study the following scriptures and other materials:

    1. a.

      Explanatory Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants; Doctrine and Covenants 1.

    2. b.

      Introduction to Our Heritage.

  2. 2.

    Obtain a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Class Member Study Guide (35686) for each class member. You should receive these copies from the Sunday School presidency, the ward clerk, or the assistant ward clerk assigned to materials. Review the material for this lesson in the Study Guide, and plan ways to refer to it during the lesson.

  3. 3.

    Obtain enough copies of Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (35448) so every class member can have access to one for personal study (at least one copy per home). Many members will already have copies. You should be able to obtain copies from the Sunday School presidency, the ward clerk, or the assistant ward clerk assigned to materials. The clerk can help order additional copies as needed.

  4. 4.

    If you use the attention activity, bring a picture of the Salt Lake Temple to class (62433; Gospel Art Picture Kit 502).

Suggestions for Lesson Development

Attention Activity

As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson.

Show a picture of the Salt Lake Temple. Point to the ball on top of the temple that the statue of angel Moroni stands upon. Explain that the upper half of that ball is the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple. On 6 April 1892, the Church held a general conference in the Tabernacle. Shortly before noon, President Wilford Woodruff dismissed the meeting. Forty thousand people gathered on Temple Square, with thousands more surrounding it. President Woodruff then pressed an electric button, and the capstone was lowered into place. Down below, the Tabernacle Choir, accompanied by a band, began singing the hymn “The Spirit of God,” and the Saints joined in. Then they gave the Hosanna Shout and waved white handkerchiefs, showing their joy that the Salt Lake Temple was near completion.

President Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th President of the Church, explained that the Doctrine and Covenants can be described as the capstone of our religion:

“The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ [D&C 1:30]. …

“The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 105; or Ensign, May 1987, 83).

Testify that the keystone and the capstone teach us about the Savior, who is the cornerstone of our religion (Ephesians 2:20). These scriptures also testify of the Savior and of the truthfulness of His gospel.

Discussion and Application

This lesson contains more material than is possible to teach in one class period. Prayerfully select the lesson material that will best meet class members’ needs.

Explain that this course uses a thematic approach in studying the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history. The lessons are intended to help class members learn and apply what the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history teach about specific gospel themes. As a result of this year’s study, class members should have a greater desire to seek the blessings of the gospel.

Point out that because this year’s lessons are thematic, some sections of the Doctrine and Covenants are not included in the reading assignments. Nevertheless, class members should plan to read the entire Doctrine and Covenants during the year.

Distribute copies of the Class Member Study Guide. Explain that the study guide contains reading assignments and discussion questions for each lesson. Invite class members to make a commitment to read these assignments and prepare for class each week. Ask them to share ideas about how to make the assigned weekly reading a habit.

Display a copy of Our Heritage, and distribute copies as needed so there will be at least one copy in each home. Explain that this book presents an inspiring account of the history of the Church from the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith to the present day. Class members should read the book during the year. Much of this history will be discussed in the lessons.

Point out that class members share the responsibility to make this course successful. Encourage them to prepare to participate in the lessons and share experiences that have taught them how to apply gospel principles in their lives.

1. The revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants address the needs of our day.

  • Read the third paragraph in the Explanatory Introduction, found at the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants (this paragraph begins with the phrase “The book of”). How is the Doctrine and Covenants different from other books of scripture? What passages in the Doctrine and Covenants have been especially helpful or meaningful to you?

  • Read the sixth paragraph in the Explanatory Introduction (this paragraph begins with the phrase “These sacred revelations”). What does this paragraph teach about how the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received? Why is it helpful to understand that most of the revelations came as answers to prayers?

  • Read the eighth paragraph in the Explanatory Introduction (this paragraph begins with the phrase “In the revelations”). What are some of the doctrines of the gospel that are explained in the Doctrine and Covenants? (Select two or three of these doctrines and discuss how our lives would be different without the truths that are revealed about them in the Doctrine and Covenants.)

2. The Lord authored the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants.

Introduce section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants by reviewing the following information:

On 1 November 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith presided at a special conference of elders, held in Hiram, Ohio. Those in attendance decided to compile some of the revelations the Prophet had received and publish them in a book called the Book of Commandments. Following the first session of this conference, the Lord signified His approval for the publication by giving Joseph Smith a revelation that He called “my preface unto the book of my commandments” (D&C 1:6). This revelation is now section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

President Ezra Taft Benson said: “The Doctrine and Covenants is the only book in the world that has a preface written by the Lord Himself. In that preface He declares to the world that His voice is unto all men (see v. 2), that the coming of the Lord is nigh (see v. 12), and that the truths found in the Doctrine and Covenants will all be fulfilled (see vs. 37–38)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 101; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 79).

  • In D&C 1, the Lord raises a “voice of warning,” which He continues throughout the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 1:4). What warnings does the Lord issue in this section? (See D&C 1:7–10, 12–16, 31–33. You may want to list these on the chalkboard.) How do these warnings apply to us?

  • For whom are the messages of the Doctrine and Covenants intended? (See D&C 1:1–4, 11, 34–35.) How are these messages to go to all people? (See D&C 1:4.)

  • In D&C 1, the Lord foretells the great destiny of His latter-day work (D&C 1:23, 30). Explain that when the Lord revealed this section, the Church had been organized for only one and one-half years and had only a few hundred members. How are the prophecies of the Church’s growth being fulfilled in our day?

  • In D&C 1, the Lord explains some of the purposes for the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. Read D&C 1:17–28 with class members. As recorded in these verses, what are some of the purposes of the revelations? (Answers could include those listed below.)

    1. a.

      “That every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world” (D&C 1:20).

    2. b.

      “That faith also might increase” (D&C 1:21).

    3. c.

      “That mine everlasting covenant might be established” (D&C 1:22).

    4. d.

      “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed” (D&C 1:23).

    5. e.

      To help the Lord’s servants “come to understanding” (D&C 1:24).

    6. f.

      “And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known” (D&C 1:25).

    7. g.

      “And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed” (D&C 1:26).

    8. h.

      “And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent” (D&C 1:27).

    9. i.

      “And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time” (D&C 1:28).

  • The Lord’s preface to the Doctrine and Covenants concludes with a commandment to search His words. Read D&C 1:37–38 and D&C 18:34–36 with class members. What does the Lord teach us about His words and His voice in these verses? How is searching the scriptures different from merely reading them? How have you benefited from searching the Lord’s words in the Doctrine and Covenants?

3. This course will discuss major events of the dispensation of the fulness of times.

Have class members turn to page 657 in the Bible Dictionary. Read the first sentence in the entry for the word dispensations. Then explain that the lessons this year will cover many of the major events of our dispensation—the dispensation of the fulness of times (D&C 112:30–32). Share the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“Prophets, priests and kings … have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory, ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times’” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 231).

  • Why is our dispensation different from any of the previous ones? (Answers could include that this dispensation will not end in apostasy and that the Church will continue to grow until it fills the earth and the way is prepared for the Lord’s Second Coming.) What are some of the blessings and responsibilities of living in this dispensation?

Explain that this dispensation can be divided into six historical periods. You may want to write them on the chalkboard as follows:

New York Period

1820–1830

Ohio-Missouri Period

1831–1838

Nauvoo Period

1839–1846

Pioneering the West

1846–1898

Expansion of the Church

1899–1950

The Worldwide Church

1951–present

Point out that many of the important events in these six historical periods are summarized in “Church History Chronology” on pages 272–73 in this manual and pages 27–28 in the Class Member Study Guide. Have class members briefly review these events.

  • Which events in the history of the Church have particular significance to you?

4. We can each help to move forward this great latter-day work.

Ask class members to look around the room at the people in the class. Explain that we are not here on earth at this time by accident. We have been sent by God to help build His kingdom in this last dispensation. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time as there is of us” (quoted by Marvin J. Ashton, in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 48; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 36).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The most serious challenge we face, and the most wonderful challenge, is the challenge that comes of growth” (quoted in “President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 6).

  • What are some challenges that are presented by the Church’s tremendous growth? What are some examples of the Church’s efforts to meet these challenges? (Answers could include the dramatic increase in temple building, efforts to build priesthood leadership, and the hastening of the translation of scriptures into many languages.)

Emphasize that we can see and feel the excitement of the Church’s growth. However, the Lord needs more than onlookers who cheer from the sidelines; we must ask ourselves if we are keeping pace and doing our part as families and as individuals. President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “This is a season of a thousand opportunities. It is ours to grasp and move forward. What a wonderful time it is for each of us to do his or her small part in moving the work of the Lord on to its magnificent destiny” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 90–91; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 67).

  • What can we each do individually and in our families to help move forward the Lord’s great latter-day work?

Conclusion

Emphasize that we are privileged to live in the dispensation of the fulness of times. We can see the Church rolling forth as prophesied anciently (Daniel 2:44–45; see also D&C 65:2). We enjoy the blessings of the restored gospel. We hear the voice of the Lord as we read the Doctrine and Covenants. We are led by a living prophet. The course of study this year will help us understand more about the opportunities and blessings of living in this dispensation.