In 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith encountered a challenge because Church members did not understand the order of revelation in the Church. Hiram Page claimed to receive revelations for the Church through the medium of a special stone, and some Church members, including Oliver Cowdery, believed him. Shortly before a Church conference that was held on September 26, 1830, the Lord revealed truths that helped Oliver Cowdery and others understand the order of revelation in the Church.
Suggestions for Teaching
The Lord declares that the President of the Church is the only person who can receive revelation to govern the Church
Write imitation on the board.
What are some examples of things that are just imitations? (As part of this discussion, you may want to display an example of an item that is an imitation, such as copied artwork, play money, or a piece of plastic fruit.)
Why might it be harmful to mistake an imitation for something that is real?
Invite a student to read aloud the following warning from Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The devil is the father of lies, and he is ever anxious to frustrate the work of God by his clever imitations” (“Two Lines of Communication,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 84).
Invite a student to read aloud the section introduction for Doctrine and Covenants 28. Ask the class to follow along and identify an imitation Satan used to deceive some members of the early Church.
What imitation did Satan use to deceive Church members? (If students do not mention the similarity between Hiram’s stone and the Urim and Thummim that Joseph Smith sometimes used, point out this similarity.)
Explain that some Church members believed the false revelations that Satan conveyed to Hiram Page. As students study and discuss the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 28, encourage them to look for truths that can help them avoid being misled by Satan’s imitations. Inform students that you will write these truths on the board as they discover them throughout the lesson. You may want to suggest that students write these truths in the margins of their scriptures.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 28:1–4 aloud, and invite the class to identify how Oliver Cowdery’s responsibilities in the Church were different from Joseph Smith’s responsibilities.
How were Oliver Cowdery’s responsibilities different from Joseph Smith’s? (Joseph was responsible to receive commandments and revelations for the Church. Oliver was responsible to teach by the Comforter concerning the commandments and revelations that Joseph received.)
What important truth about the President of the Church can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 28:2? (Students should identify the following doctrine: The President of the Church is the only person who can receive revelation for the whole Church. Write this statement on the board.)
How can our knowledge of this truth help us avoid being deceived?
As students discuss these questions, you may want to assure them that we can always trust the teachings and counsel of the President of the Church because the Lord will never allow the President to lead us astray. (Note that this promise is found in a statement by President Wilford Woodruff. That statement is included in the Doctrine and Covenants, in the supplemental material after Official Declaration 1.)
Explain that not long before the Lord revealed the truths that are now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 28, Oliver Cowdery did something that showed that he did not yet fully understand the differences between his responsibilities in the Church and Joseph Smith’s responsibilities as the President of the Church. Invite a student to read the following account:
Joseph Smith was living in Harmony, Pennsylvania, when he received a letter from Oliver Cowdery, who was in Fayette, New York, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. Oliver said he had discovered an error in the revelation we now call Doctrine and Covenants 20. Oliver wrote: “I command you in the name of God to erase those words.” Joseph traveled to Fayette and learned that the Whitmer family agreed with Oliver about the supposed error in the revelation. Joseph wrote, “It was not without both labor and perseverance that I could prevail with any of them to reason calmly on the subject.” Eventually, the Prophet “succeeded in bringing not only the Whitmer family, but … Oliver Cowdery also to acknowledge that they had been in error” (Histories, Volume 1: 1832–1844, vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers , 426; see also pages 424–25).
Ask students to read Doctrine and Covenants 28:6–7 silently, looking for the Lord’s direction to Oliver Cowdery.
What did the Lord teach Oliver Cowdery? (After students respond, write the following doctrine on the board: In the Church of Jesus Christ, individuals do not receive revelation to direct someone who presides over them.)
How does this truth relate to the account we just read?
How can this truth help us today?
The Lord calls Oliver Cowdery to preach the gospel to the Lamanites
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 28:8–10 aloud, and ask the class to identify what the Lord called Oliver Cowdery to do.
What did the Lord call Oliver to do? (Preach the gospel among the Lamanites.)
What can we learn about personal revelation from Doctrine and Covenants 28:8? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: We may receive revelation for our own benefit and to help us in the callings and assignments we are given.)
To help students understand this principle, ask a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“We are entitled to personal revelation. However, unless we are set apart to some presiding office, we will not receive revelations concerning what others should do. …
“An unusual spiritual experience should not be regarded as a personal call to direct others. It is my conviction that experiences of a special, sacred nature are individual and should be kept to oneself” (“Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 14–15).
Before class, write the following roles and callings on separate pieces of paper: parent, General Authority, bishop, missionary, Sunday School teacher, Mia Maid president, home teacher, visiting teacher. Place the papers in a container.
Invite students to select papers from the container and read them to the class, one at a time. As each paper is read, ask students to suggest the kinds of revelation individuals can receive to help them fulfill that role or calling.
You may want to invite students to share experiences in which they have received revelation in an assignment or responsibility. You may also want to share an experience in which you received revelation to help you in a calling or assignment. Remind students that some experiences are too sacred or personal to share.
Encourage students to pray for revelation to help them in their personal lives and in their Church callings and assignments. Also encourage them to pray that Church leaders will be blessed with health and safety and with the inspiration to they need to fulfill their responsibilities.
The Lord directs Oliver Cowdery to correct Hiram Page and help set the Church in order
Remind students of the false revelations that Hiram Page presented to some members of the Church. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 28:11–14 silently to discover what the Lord directed Oliver Cowdery to do to help resolve this difficulty.
What did the Lord command Oliver to do to help resolve the problem with Hiram Page?
What can we learn from these verses about the responsibilities of Church leaders? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but be sure to emphasize the following: Church leaders have the responsibility to correct those who are leading others astray. Write this principle on the board.)
What can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 28:13 about the way the Lord leads His Church? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: In the Church of Jesus Christ, all things must be done in order. Write this principle on the board.)
Explain that one way we do things “in order, and by common consent” is that we publicly sustain individuals in Church callings.
Why do you think it is important that individuals are publicly sustained in their callings?
To help the class understand how common consent provides order and protection for the Church, ask a student to read the following statement by President Packer:
“Revelation in the Church comes to those who have been properly called, sustained, ordained, or set apart. A bishop, for instance, will not receive any revelation concerning a neighboring ward, because that is out of his jurisdiction.
“Occasionally someone will claim to have received authority to teach and bless without having been called and set apart. …
“That is why the process of sustaining those called to office is so carefully protected in the Church—that all might know who has authority to teach and to bless” (“Revelation in a Changing World,” 15).
According to President Packer, why do we publicly sustain those who receive Church callings?
After we raise our hands to say that we will sustain people in their callings, what should we do to truly sustain them?
To help students apply the principles they learned in today’s lesson, read aloud the following situations and ask them how they would respond to each:
You receive an electronic communication claiming to be new revelation. It contains teachings that are not in harmony with the scriptures or the words of the living prophets.
You notice that a member of your ward makes a statement that is doctrinally incorrect as she bears her testimony during sacrament meeting. You are concerned that if the message is mistaken for truth, it might have a hurtful impact on others. Who should correct the member who spoke incorrectly?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 28:15–16 aloud, and ask the class to identify the Lord’s concluding counsel to Oliver Cowdery in this revelation.
Explain that after Joseph Smith received this revelation, he convened a conference and set the Church in order. At the conference, “Brother Page, as well as the whole church who were present, renounced the said stone, and all things connected therewith” (Histories, Volume 1: 1832–1844, 452). To conclude this lesson, testify of the truths you have discussed and their value in helping us avoid being misled.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 28:1–4. Oliver Cowdery’s responsibilities
The Lord gave Oliver Cowdery responsibilities in addition to those listed in Doctrine and Covenants 28:1–4. Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith held the keys of the gift to translate the Book of Mormon (see D&C 6:25–28). Oliver also served as “an apostle of Jesus Christ” and “the second elder of [the] church” (D&C 20:3).
Doctrine and Covenants 28:1–2, 8. Personal revelation and revelation through the Lord’s prophet
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord told Oliver Cowdery that only the President of the Church could “receive commandments and revelations” for the entire Church (see D&C 28:1–2). The Lord also said that Oliver Cowdery would “have revelations” in his specific responsibilities (see D&C 28:8). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught about the balance between personal revelation and revelation given through priesthood leaders:
“Our Heavenly Father has given His children two lines of communication with Him—what we may call the personal line and the priesthood line. All should understand and be guided by both of these essential lines of communication. …
“… In its fulness the personal line does not function independent of the priesthood line. The gift of the Holy Ghost—the means of communication from God to man—is conferred by priesthood authority as authorized by those holding priesthood keys. …
“… Unfortunately, it is common for persons who are violating God’s commandments or disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders to declare that God has revealed to them that they are excused from obeying some commandment or from following some counsel. Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose. The devil is the father of lies, and he is ever anxious to frustrate the work of God by his clever imitations” (“Two Lines of Communication,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 83–84).
Doctrine and Covenants 28:2. The role of the President of the Church
President James E. Faust of the First Presidency testified that the President of the Church is the only person who can receive revelation for the whole Church. He explained how this provides order and protection for Latter-day Saints:
“Some have claimed higher spiritual gifts or authority outside the established priesthood authority of the Church. They say that they believe in the principles and ordinances of the gospel and accept the President of the Church as the legal administrator thereof, but claim they have a higher order which the President does not have. This is often done to justify an activity which is not in accordance with the doctrines of the Church. There can be no higher order, however, because the President of the Church both holds and exercises all of the keys of the kingdom of God on earth. The Lord has said of the President of the Church ‘that none else shall be appointed [to receive commandments and revelations] except it be through him.’ [D&C 43:4]. …
“… Continuing revelation and leadership for the Church come through the President of the Church, and he will never mislead the Saints” (“The Prophetic Voice,” Ensign, May 1996, 6–7).
Doctrine and Covenants 28:6. “Thou shalt not command him who is at thy head”
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that individuals do not receive revelation to direct someone who presides over them in the Church:
“It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 197–98).
Doctrine and Covenants 28:8–10. The Lamanites
The term Lamanites refers to a group of people in the Book of Mormon, many of whom were descendants of Laman, the eldest son of Lehi. The Lord’s use of the term Lamanites in Doctrine and Covenants 28:9 indicates that some of Lehi’s descendants were among the American Indians who, at the time, were living on what was considered the western border of the United States. In May 1830, the United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Bill, which required all American Indians to relocate to the federal Indian Territory west of the state of Missouri. Thus, Oliver Cowdery and his companions traveled to western Missouri, “on the borders by the Lamanites” (D&C 28:9), to teach the gospel to American Indians.
The Book of Mormon does not claim that American Indians descended exclusively from the family of Lehi. President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency said:
“We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples … who came from the old world to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can very easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 15).
Doctrine and Covenants 28:11. “Those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me”
In northwestern New York during the early 1800s, many people believed individuals could receive knowledge supernaturally through an instrument such as a stone or a divining rod. Hiram Page claimed that words would appear on the stone he possessed. He said that after he dictated the words and had them copied to paper, the words would disappear from the stone and others would appear (see Documents: Volume 1: July 1828-June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers , 184). The Lord denounced Hiram Page’s false revelations. In addition to using the Urim and Thummim, Joseph may have used a seer stone he found in his youth to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon. Several theories exist about how the Prophet used the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon and about other particulars of the translation process, but Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “We simply do not know the details” (“By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 39). One very important difference between Joseph Smith and Hiram Page is that God called Joseph Smith to perform the work of translation and to receive revelation for the Church (see D&C 21:1–6). In contrast, the Lord clearly stated that Satan was deceiving Hiram Page and those who believed in the words he dictated (see D&C 28:11).
President James E. Faust of the First Presidency cautioned us to avoid activities that may invite Satan’s influence into our lives:
“Satan is not an enlightening subject. I consider him to be the great imitator. …
“It is not good practice to become intrigued by Satan and his mysteries. No good can come from getting close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned. … The only safe course is to keep well distanced from him and any of his wicked activities or nefarious practices. The mischief of devil worship, sorcery, witchcraft, voodooism, casting spells, black magic, and all other forms of demonism should always be avoided” (“The Forces That Will Save Us,” Ensign, Jan. 2007, 5).