Under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized on April 6, 1830, at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York. Nearly 60 people attended the meeting, which consisted of prayer, sustainings, ordinations, the administration of the sacrament, and confirmations. At this meeting, Joseph Smith received the revelation now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 21. In this revelation the Lord declared the calling and responsibility of Joseph Smith and instructed Church members to heed his words.
Suggestions for Teaching
Joseph Smith is designated as the prophet and seer of the Church
Consider asking the class to sing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” (Hymns, no. 19) as part of the daily devotional. As you begin the lesson, mention this hymn and ask the following question:
What are some reasons you feel thankful for a prophet?
Explain to students that in their study of Doctrine and Covenants 21, they will learn truths that can increase their understanding of the role of prophets. To give students some historical context for this revelation, summarize the information given in the introduction to this lesson.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:1 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for titles by which Joseph Smith would be known. Then ask students to report what they found.
What does it mean that the Lord called Joseph Smith to be a seer?
What does it mean that the Lord called Joseph Smith to be a prophet?
To help students understand these titles and the responsibilities that are associated with them, invite two students to read aloud the following descriptions of a seer and a prophet. Ask them to read each statement slowly, pausing briefly at the end of each sentence. Ask the rest of the class to listen for sentences that are meaningful to them and to be prepared to explain why.
“A seer is one who sees with spiritual eyes. He perceives the meaning of that which seems obscure to [unclear to or hidden from] others; therefore he is an interpreter and clarifier of eternal truth. He foresees the future from the past and the present. This he does by the power of the Lord operating through him directly, or indirectly with the aid of divine instruments such as the Urim and Thummim. In short, he is one who sees, who walks in the Lord’s light with open eyes” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, arr. G. Homer Durham, 3 vols. in 1 , 258).
A prophet is “a person who has been called by and speaks for God. As a messenger of God, a prophet receives commandments, prophecies, and revelations from God. His responsibility is to make known God’s will and true character to mankind and to show the meaning of his dealings with them. A prophet denounces sin and foretells its consequences. He is a preacher of righteousness. On occasion, prophets may be inspired to foretell the future for the benefit of mankind. His primary responsibility, however, is to bear witness of Christ” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Prophet,” scriptures.lds.org).
After each definition is read, invite several students to explain which sentences stood out to them.
Before continuing, it may be helpful to briefly discuss with students the following definitions of the other titles given in the first verse of Doctrine and Covenants 21:
Translator: someone who (1) converts written or spoken words to another language or (2) gives clearer meaning to an existing translation by improving or correcting it or by restoring lost material (see Guide to the Scriptures, “Translate,” scriptures.lds.org).
Elder: “the proper title given to all holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood” and to someone who has been called to be a full-time minister for Jesus Christ (see Bible Dictionary, “Elders”).
How do the titles given to Joseph Smith help you to understand his important role in the Restoration?
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:2–3 silently, looking for what God inspired Joseph Smith to do. Ask students to report what they learned. (Students should express the truth that God directed Joseph Smith to restore the Church of Jesus Christ.)
Why do you think it is important for us to know that Joseph Smith was called by God to restore and lead the Church of Jesus Christ?
Show students the picture Brother Joseph (Gospel Art Book , no. 87; see also LDS.org) and testify of the truth you discussed above.
Members of the Church should heed the words of Joseph Smith
Remind students that the Lord gave this revelation on the day the Church was organized. That this revelation was given on this particular day gives it special significance.
Write the following words and phrases from Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5 on the board (do not include the definitions in parentheses):
the church (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Joseph Smith’s day as well as our own)
his (specifically Joseph Smith, but can also refer to the current Church President)
words and commandments (could refer to all of a prophet’s teachings and counsel, including specific instructions given by the Lord through the prophet)
in all patience and faith (could mean that we can trust completely in the prophet’s teachings, that we should not be critical of him, that we should follow his counsel in spite of any personal shortcomings he may have, and that we should await promised blessings patiently)
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5 silently and ponder the meaning of the words and phrases on the board. After sufficient time, ask students how they would define these words and phrases. You may want to use the definitions in parentheses to guide the discussion. Then ask the following questions:
According to Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5, which of the prophet’s teachings are we to heed? (We are to heed “all his words and commandments.”)
Why might it sometimes require patience and faith to heed the words of a prophet?
How does knowing that the prophet receives counsel and commandments from the Lord help you to receive his words “in all patience and faith”? (D&C 21:5).
Invite each student to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:6 silently, looking for three blessings extended to those who receive the prophet’s words in patience and faith. (You might explain that one meaning of shake is to dislodge or release something from a support or a container. Thus, one interpretation of this verse could be that when the heavens shake “for [our] good,” revelations and blessings are “released” and poured out upon those who follow the living prophets.)
How would you summarize the promises given to those who heed the words of the prophet? (Students may use different words, but they should express the following principle: If we heed the words of the prophet, we will be protected against the adversary. You may want to write this principle on the board.)
How does heeding the words of the prophet “disperse the powers of darkness”?
To help students understand the principle they just identified, invite one of them to read aloud the following excerpt on dating (or another excerpt of your choice) from For the Strength of Youth. Ask the rest of the class to listen carefully and identify the prophetic counsel and the promised blessings. After the student has finished reading, invite students to report what they identified.
“A date is a planned activity that allows a young man and a young woman to get to know each other better. In cultures where dating is acceptable, it can help you learn and practice social skills, develop friendships, have wholesome fun, and eventually find an eternal companion.
“You should not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go with one or more additional couples. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Developing serious relationships too early in life can limit the number of other people you meet and can perhaps lead to immorality. Invite your parents to become acquainted with those you date.
“Choose to date only those who have high moral standards and in whose company you can maintain your standards. Remember that a young man and a young woman on a date are responsible to protect each other’s honor and virtue” (For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 4; see also LDS.org).
When have you or someone you know been blessed for heeding the words and commandments of the living prophet?
Encourage students to ponder what they must do to claim the blessings promised in Doctrine and Covenants 21:6. Assure them that as they earnestly heed the words of the prophet, they will receive great blessings now and in the eternities.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:7–9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the righteous desires and behaviors of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
What do we learn about the Prophet Joseph Smith from these verses?
How do you think these verses also apply to the current President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Oliver Cowdery is acknowledged as an elder and a preacher
Tell students that at the first meeting of the Church, Oliver Cowdery was ordained an elder by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Prophet was ordained an elder by Oliver Cowdery. Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 21:10–12.
You may want to point out that in verse 10, the Lord refers to Oliver Cowdery as “mine apostle” (see also D&C 20:2–3). Explain that in Greek, apostle means “one sent forth” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Apostle,” scriptures.lds.org). Oliver Cowdery was sent forth by Jesus Christ and commanded to testify of the Savior. Although Oliver was given apostolic responsibilities, he was not a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. However, he did assist in seeking out the men who were called as members of that quorum when it was organized in 1835.
According to Doctrine and Covenants 21:11, what was Oliver Cowdery asked to do? (Bear the Lord’s name.)
What does it mean to you to bear the Lord’s name?
Conclude today’s lesson by encouraging students to act on promptings they receive regarding ways they can bear the Lord’s name and represent the Church in their families, their community, and the world.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 21. Joseph Smith’s description of April 6, 1830
Regarding the events of April 6, 1830, when the Church was formally organized, the Prophet Joseph Smith said:
Doctrine and Covenants 21. Joseph Knight’s recollection of April 6, 1830
Joseph Knight Sr. recorded the joy the Prophet Joseph Smith felt on this memorable day, when his father, Joseph Smith Sr., was baptized:
“There was one thing I will mention [about] that evening [when] old Brother Smith and Martin Harris [were] baptized. Joseph was filled with the Spirit to a great degree to see his father and Mr. Harris that … he bast [burst?] out with … joy and seemed as though the world could not hold him. He went out into the lot and appeared to want to get out of sight of everybody and would sob and cry and seemed to be so full that he could not live. … He was the most wrought upon that I ever saw any man. But his joy seemed to be full. I think he saw the great work he had begun and was desirous to carry it out” (as quoted in Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies, vol. 17, no. 1 , 37; spelling and capitalization standardized).
Doctrine and Covenants 21:5. “His word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth”
President Ezra Taft Benson emphasized the importance of the living prophet and President of the Church:
“To help you pass the crucial tests which lie ahead I am going to give you today several facets of a grand key which, if you will honor them, will crown you with God’s glory and bring you out victorious in spite of Satan’s fury.
“… Here then is the grand key—follow the prophet—and here now are fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …
“First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
“Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
“Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
“Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.
“Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
“Sixth: The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.
“Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
“Eighth: The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
“Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.
“Tenth: The prophet may be involved in civic matters.
“Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
“Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
“Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.
“Fourteenth: The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” [Brigham Young University fireside address, Feb. 26, 1980], 1, 6, speeches.byu.edu).
Doctrine and Covenants 21:5–6. “In all patience and faith”
President Harold B. Lee explained the value of heeding the prophet’s counsel, even when our own views may differ from that counsel:
“The only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith’ (D&C 21:4–5). There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (D&C 21:6)” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee , 84–85; see also Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2001], 45).
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“It is no small thing, my brothers and sisters, to have a prophet of God in our midst. Great and wonderful are the blessings that come into our lives as we listen to the word of the Lord given to us through him. At the same time, knowing that [the current Church President] is God’s prophet also endows us with responsibility. When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt. History has shown that there is safety, peace, prosperity, and happiness in responding to prophetic counsel as did Nephi of old: ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded’” (“His Word Ye Shall Receive,” Ensign, May 2001, 65).