In late October or early November 1831, Oliver Cowdery received an assignment to carry the manuscript for the Book of Commandments from Ohio to Missouri. In Missouri, William W. Phelps would print the book at his press. On November 11, 1831, the Lord appointed John Whitmer to be Oliver’s traveling companion and commanded him to continue in his duties as Church Historian (see D&C 69). The next day, the Lord appointed six men to serve as stewards over the revelations (see D&C 70). In December 1831, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to serve a mission to dispel unfriendly feelings against the Church and to prepare the way for the revelations and commandments that were to be published (see D&C 71).
Before class, write the following question on the board: Has anyone ever trusted you to take care of something valuable?
At the beginning of the lesson, give students time to think about the question on the board. Then ask the following questions:
What were you trusted to do? How did that trust influence your care for the thing of value?
Invite a student to read aloud the section introduction for Doctrine and Covenants 69. Ask the class to follow along and look for what Oliver Cowdery was entrusted with.
What was Oliver Cowdery entrusted with?
If you were trusted with these valuable items, how would you care for them?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 69:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the counsel the Lord gave in regard to these valuable items.
Why do you think it would be wise to have more than one person carry these valuable items?
Explain that the Lord trusted John Whitmer with another important responsibility, in addition to helping Oliver transport the revelations and money to Missouri. Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 69:3–8, and ask the class to look for what else the Lord trusted John Whitmer to do. Ask students to report what they find. You may want to remind students that John Whitmer had been called to serve as Church Historian and Recorder in the early part of 1831 (see D&C 47).
According to Doctrine and Covenants 69:3, what did the Lord command John Whitmer to record?
According to verse 8, why was it important for John Whitmer to keep a history of the Church?
Explain that from the time of Joseph Smith, Church leaders have diligently sought to follow the Lord’s direction to record “all the important things … concerning [the] church” (D&C 69:3). They have retained “all things which shall be for the good of the church” (D&C 69:8), even when some of those things could cause some embarrassment. For example, the Doctrine and Covenants includes some revelations in which the Lord chastises early Church leaders (see D&C 3:5–9; 93:41–50). Today the Church Historian, under the direction of the First Presidency, leads the efforts of the Church History Department to maintain an accurate history “of all the important things.”
To help students identify a principle in Doctrine and Covenants 69:3, 8, write the following incomplete statement on the board: The Lord expects histories to be kept for the good of …
Ask students how they would complete this statement based on verses 3 and 8. As they answer, complete the statement on the board: The Lord expects histories to be kept for the good of the Church and the rising generations. You may want to make sure students understand that the phrase “rising generations” refers to them, the youth of the Church.
In your opinion, how might Church histories and personal histories benefit the Church? How might they benefit the rising generation?
Ask students to think about an account from Church history or their family histories that has helped them. Divide students into pairs, and ask them to share their accounts with each other. Also ask them to talk about how the accounts have influenced them. Or you may want to invite a few students to share their accounts with the entire class.
Invite students to read silently the section introduction for Doctrine and Covenants 70 and look for what Joseph Smith’s history says about the Doctrine and Covenants (originally called the Book of Commandments).
How did the Prophet describe the Doctrine and Covenants?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 70:1 aloud, and ask the class to look for the names of six Church leaders. Then invite another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 70:2–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the responsibility that the Lord gave these six men.
What responsibility did the Lord give these six men? (They were to be stewards over the revelations and commandments.)
According to Doctrine and Covenants 70:4, what did the Lord say He would require of these men in the day of judgment? (He would require an account of their stewardship. In other words, He would ask them to report on their service.)
What does this suggest about what the Lord will require of us at the day of judgment? (As students respond, help them identify the following truth: The Lord will hold us accountable for the duties He has entrusted to us. Write this truth on the board.)
How might this truth influence the way we respond to Church callings and assignments?
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 70:5–18 by explaining that the Lord told these six men to make their stewardship over the revelations “their business in the church of God, to manage them and the concerns thereof, yea, the benefits thereof” (D&C 70:5). In accordance with the law of consecration, any income they received that was in excess of their needs was to be given to the Lord’s storehouse for the care of the poor (see D&C 70:7).
Ask students if any of them have ever heard criticisms about the Church. You might consider inviting a few students to tell about their experiences.
What are appropriate ways to respond to criticism of the Church?
To help students understand the context of Doctrine and Covenants 71, invite a student to read the following information aloud (or read the paragraph yourself). Ask the class to listen for how the Church and its leaders were being criticized at the time this revelation was given.
Ezra Booth was a former Methodist minister who became a member of the Church after reading the Book of Mormon, talking with Joseph Smith, and witnessing a healing. He traveled as a missionary to Missouri but was disappointed when he couldn’t perform miracles to convince others of the truth. In addition, Booth did not believe that Joseph Smith’s conduct was appropriate for a prophet or a spiritual leader. He became highly critical of Joseph Smith, left the Church, and wrote nine letters criticizing the Church and its leaders. These letters, published in a newspaper called the Ohio Star, led some people to develop unfriendly feelings toward the Church and its leaders. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s history called Ezra Booth’s writings a “series of letters, which, by their coloring, falsity, and vain calculations to overthrow the work of the Lord, exposed his [Booth’s] weakness, wickedness and folly, and left him a monument of his own shame, for the world to wonder at” (History of the Church, 1:216–17). Symonds Ryder, another disaffected member, gave copies of some of the revelations to another newspaper, attempting to discourage people from joining the Church.
Explain that the agitation caused by Ezra Booth and Symonds Ryder grew into a serious problem. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 71:1–4 aloud, and ask the class to look for what the Lord told Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to do to calm the unfriendly feelings that resulted from the newspaper articles.
According to verse 1, what did the Lord instruct Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to do to calm people’s negative feelings about the Church? (They were to use the scriptures and the power of the Spirit that the Lord would give them.)
What principle can we learn from this instruction about how to respond to criticism of the Church? (Although students may give many correct responses, make sure they identify the following principle: When people criticize the Church, we can respond by sharing truths from the scriptures and following the guidance of the Spirit. Write this principle on the board.)
What can we do now to prepare to respond to criticism against the Church or its leaders?
To help students understand the importance of having the Spirit’s guidance as they respond to criticism against the Church, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how the Spirit can help us respond to criticism against the Church.
“As we respond to others, each circumstance will be different. Fortunately, the Lord knows the hearts of our accusers and how we can most effectively respond to them. As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter. And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord” (“Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 73).
Read Doctrine and Covenants 71:5–11 aloud. Ask students to look for counsel and comfort the Lord gave to those who respond to criticism against the Church.
What counsel do you see in verse 7?
Explain that Sidney Rigdon obeyed the Lord’s counsel and invited Ezra Booth to join him in the town of Ravenna, where they would publicly discuss the letters Ezra had sent to the newspaper. Sidney also challenged Symonds Ryder to a public debate on the Book of Mormon. Both men declined the invitations. Sidney still testified of the truth in Ravenna and other locations.
How might the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 71:8–10 be comforting to those who respond to criticism against the Church?
Invite students to consider what they will do to better prepare themselves to respond to criticism against the Church. Share your testimony of the Church and its leaders.