During the Great Apostasy, the ordinances of Jesus Christ’s Church were changed, eliminated, or performed without proper authority. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 22, the Lord affirmed that the ordinance of baptism must be performed by those with the authority to grant individuals Church membership and entrance into the kingdom of God. Section 23 of the Doctrine and Covenants includes a revelation received by Joseph Smith for five men who earnestly desired to know God’s will for them: Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, Joseph Smith Sr., and Joseph Knight.
Suggestions for Teaching
Baptism must be performed by those who have the proper authority
Invite three students to take part in a role play. Invite one student to play the role of an investigator who believes the Church is true. The investigator has been baptized by immersion in another church and does not understand why another baptism is necessary. Ask the other two students to play the role of missionaries who are trying to answer the investigator’s question. Invite the class to consider how they might respond if they were in this situation themselves.
After the role play, explain that the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 22 was prompted by a similar situation. Many of those seeking membership in the Church had been baptized in their former faiths. They wondered why they had to be baptized again.
Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord concerning their question. In response, the Lord taught an important doctrine of the Restoration of the gospel. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 22:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a phrase that relates to the Restoration of the gospel.
What phrase in this verse relates to the Restoration of the gospel? (“A new and an everlasting covenant.”)
To help students understand this phrase, invite one of them to read the following statement aloud.
“The new and everlasting covenant is the fulness of the gospel. [See D&C 66:2.] It is composed of ‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations’ that are sealed upon members of the Church by the Holy Spirit of promise, or the Holy Ghost, by the authority of the President of the Church who holds the keys. [See D&C 132:7.] The President of the Church holds the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. He delegates authority to others and authorizes them to perform the sacred ordinances of the priesthood.
“Marriage for eternity is a new and everlasting covenant. Baptism is also a new and everlasting covenant [see D&C 132:22], and likewise ordination to the priesthood, and every other covenant is everlasting and a part of the new and everlasting covenant which embraces all things” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 1:65).
Ask students to summarize in their own words the meaning of the phrase new and everlasting covenant.
How might learning about the new and everlasting covenant be helpful to those who have been baptized without priesthood authority?
By what authority are ordinances administered under the new and everlasting covenant? (The authority of the priesthood.)
Write the following doctrine on the board: Baptism must be performed by one having authority from God.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 22:2–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify phrases that indicate the Lord does not accept baptisms performed without priesthood authority. In this revelation, the Lord referred to the ordinance of baptism as entering in at “the strait gate” (see D&C 22:2). Then invite students to report what they have found.
In what sense are unauthorized baptisms “dead works”? (They provide no eternal benefit to those who participate in them.)
According to Doctrine and Covenants 22:3, what did the Lord do because of the dead works that were being performed at that time? (He caused His covenant to be reestablished and His Church to be built up.)
How have you been blessed because you belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the only church that has the authority to perform essential ordinances?
Five men are called to strengthen the Church
Ask students to think of a time when they received some much-needed words of encouragement or direction from another person. You might ask a few students to share their experiences.
Invite students to look at the introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 23 and identify the five men addressed in this section. Explain that in this revelation, each of these men received specific instruction from the Lord. Encourage students to look for lessons they can learn as they study the Lord’s words to these men. The following biographical sketches provide helpful context for Doctrine and Covenants 23.
Hyrum Smith, an older brother of the Prophet, assisted in the publication of the Book of Mormon by working directly with the printer. He served as president of the first branch of the Church in Colesville, New York. Hyrum was faithful to the Lord and the Church throughout his life.
Samuel Smith, a younger brother of the Prophet, was baptized in May 1829. In June 1830, he departed on a mission and placed a Book of Mormon that would eventually lead to the conversion of Brigham Young and many of his family members. Samuel was loyal to his family and to the Church throughout his life. Samuel was not ready to preach when this revelation was given, but two months later he would begin his missionary service.
Joseph Smith Sr., the Prophet’s father, joined the Church the day it was organized. The following summer, he and his son Don Carlos embarked on a mission to extended family in New York. He became a high priest and the first patriarch of the Church. Joseph Smith Jr. described his father as “a man faithful to his God and to the Church in every situation and under all circumstances through which he was called to pass” (History of the Church, 4:192).
Joseph Knight Sr. was a close friend of Joseph Smith Jr. and had shown him great kindness. He provided the Prophet with supplies while he worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon. He had felt a desire to be baptized with others on the day the Church was organized, but he refrained because he wanted to study the Book of Mormon further. He later wrote, “I should [have] felt better if I had … gone forward” to be baptized (as quoted in Larry Porter, “The Joseph Knight Family,” Ensign, Oct. 1978, 40; spelling and capitalization standardized).
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 23:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a warning the Lord gave to Oliver Cowdery.
What warning did the Lord give to Oliver? How can pride lead to temptation?
What are some ways we can avoid feelings of pride that would lead us to temptation?
According to verse 2, what blessing would Oliver have? (The ability to “preach the truth.”)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 23:3–5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for similarities in the instructions the Lord gave to Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr.
How were the Lord’s instructions to these men similar? (Each was called to exhortation and to strengthen the Church. You may want to explain that the call to exhortation refers to the responsibility to teach the gospel to others.)
Invite three students to take turns reading aloud the biographical sketches of Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith Sr. Before the sketches are read, ask the class to listen for ways in which these men fulfilled the calling to exhort and to strengthen the Church. After each sketch is read, ask students to share what they learned.
What are the similarities and differences between the instructions to Hyrum Smith and Samuel Smith?
What are some ways in which we can exhort and strengthen the Church?
Invite a student to read aloud the biographical sketch of Joseph Knight Sr. Then ask another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 23:6–7, which contains the Lord’s counsel to Joseph Knight Sr. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord commanded him to do.
What was Joseph Knight commanded to do? (To pray vocally in private, with his family and friends, and before the world; to join the true Church; and to exhort others.)
What evidence do you see in Doctrine and Covenants 23:7 that the Lord desired to bless Joseph Knight Sr.?
Explain that a short time after the Lord gave this revelation, Joseph Knight Sr. chose to be baptized. He remained devoted to the Church throughout his life, defending the Prophet Joseph Smith privately and publicly. The Prophet later described Joseph Knight Sr. as “faithful and true, and even-handed and exemplary, and virtuous and kind, never deviating to the right hand or to the left” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 462).
Invite students to state a principle they have learned from studying Doctrine and Covenants 23. Students may express principles such as the following:
As we desire to serve the Lord, we can receive personal guidance from Him.
The Lord will bless us as we follow the guidance He gives us.
Invite students to ponder the guidance they have received from the Lord through the Holy Ghost, the words of living prophets, or the scriptures. Give them a few minutes to reflect on how they will obey the counsel they have received. You may want to invite them to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals any impressions they receive. Assure them that they will be blessed with help and guidance from the Lord as they do what He asks.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 22:1. “Even that which was from the beginning”
In Doctrine and Covenants 22:1, the phrase “even that which was from the beginning” is literally true: The gospel was taught to Adam and Eve, and they were baptized (see Moses 5:58–59; 6:52–68); Enoch was commanded to baptize followers of the Lord (see Moses 7:11); and Noah taught the people that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, even as their fathers had been (see Moses 8:24). Baptism was also taught in the Book of Mormon before the advent of Christ. An article in the September 1974 Ensign points out that baptism was practiced among the ancient Jews as well:
“Although it is not completely clear from either secular history or the scriptures that the Jews were actually baptizing one another at [the time of Jesus Christ], it was a regular practice among them to baptize gentile converts to Judaism. …
“It is noticeable that when John came among the people, they did not ask him, ‘What new thing is this that you do?’ but rather they asked, ‘Who are you?’ They did not question the ordinance” (Robert J. Matthews, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept. 1974, 16.)
Doctrine and Covenants 22:2. “You cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses”
The law of Moses, with its system of carnal commandments, ceremonies, rituals, and symbols, was given to help the Israelites remember God and look forward to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Savior fulfilled this law through the Atonement (see Alma 34:13–14). During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ and His Apostles labored to teach the Jews that salvation could not come by obedience to the law alone, but through the saving power of the Atonement. As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 22:2, the Lord compared an individual who had undergone unauthorized baptisms to those who relied on the law of Moses without having faith in Jesus Christ. This comparison emphasizes the need to let go of “dead” religious practices that cannot save us and embrace the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel, just as early Jewish converts to Christianity had to do.
Doctrine and Covenants 22:1–4. The importance of the restoration of priesthood authority
Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:
“When the Lord established his Church amongst the Nephites upon this continent, he told those who were chosen and ordained, unto whom authority was given, just how to administer the ordinance of baptism. They were to say: ‘Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ That does not give us in this age any such authority. The words that Christ spoke unto his apostles of old would be no authority unto the apostles today, nor unto any of the elders of the Church. I repeat, the words that he, the Lord, spoke unto the disciples who were chosen from among the Nephites would be no authority unto us; but in this day and age he has spoken again, and has given that same power and authority to speak in his name, and to administer the ordinances of the gospel, after the pattern that he has set; and therefore the elders and priests who take candidates, who have professed their faith, and who have repented of their sins, into the waters of baptism today, declare that they have authority given them; and, being commissioned of Jesus Christ, they baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1924, 68; see also Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2001] , 46).
Some early Church converts did not understand that the Lord does not accept a baptism unless it is performed by someone holding priesthood authority. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“Immediately after the Church was organized, converts were made. Some of these had belonged to churches which believed in baptism by immersion. In fact, many of the early converts of the Church had previously accepted this mode, believing that it was right. The question of divine authority, however, was not firmly fixed in their minds. When they desired to come into the Church, having received the testimony that Joseph Smith [was a true prophet], they wondered why it was necessary for them to be baptized again when they had complied with an ordinance of baptism by immersion” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:109).
Doctrine and Covenants 22:4. “Enter ye in at the gate”
Baptism is the gate, or requirement, for entry into the celestial kingdom for anyone who has reached the age of accountability (see 2 Nephi 31:15–21). The ordinance of baptism, while absolutely essential, becomes valid only when it is accompanied by a corresponding change of heart that leads to a new life.
Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described such a changed life:
“I remember the man who baptized me into the Church, a very common, ordinary man … with a jug of beer two or three times a day, a glass of whiskey a little later, … tobacco mostly all day long, living a useless, purposeless life, except for three meals a day, and the satisfaction of some of the carnal appetites. He heard the Gospel and accepted it. It was good. It was something he had been longing for. The man grew in power and stature in the Church. As I recall it, he filled five or six missions and presided over one of the missions of the Church. He was the same man, with the same arms, same feet, same body, same mind, but changed because of the Spirit that comes with the acceptance of eternal truth” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1952, 34; see also Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2001] , 46–47).