By January 1834 the Church had grown to over 3,000 members. This growth created a need for additional leadership to manage the affairs of the Church. On February 17, 1834, twenty-four high priests gathered in Joseph Smith’s home for a conference in which the first high council of the Church was organized. Orson Hyde, the clerk of the meeting, noted that the high council may have made some errors in the minutes of the meeting. Therefore, the council voted that the Prophet should make any necessary corrections. Joseph Smith spent the next day, February 18, making an inspired revision of those initial minutes. The minutes were amended and accepted the following day, February 19. Now found in Doctrine and Covenants 102, these minutes outline the establishment of high councils and provide direction for stake presidencies and high councils when they administer discipline for people who have committed serious transgressions. (Note that district presidencies and district councils may also be authorized to follow these procedures.)
Read aloud the following account related by President Harold B. Lee:
“Some years ago … I served as a stake president. We had a very grievous case that had to come before the high council and the stake presidency that resulted in the excommunication of a man who had harmed a lovely young girl. After a nearly all-night session that resulted in that action, I went to my office rather weary the next morning and was confronted by a brother of this man whom we [met with in council] the night before. This man said, ‘I want to tell you that my brother wasn’t guilty of what you charged him with.’
“‘How do you know he wasn’t guilty?’ I asked.
“‘Because I prayed, and the Lord told me he was innocent,’ the man answered” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 420–21).
In your opinion, how could the man have received an answer contrary to the decision made by the stake presidency and high council?
Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 102 contains principles that help us understand how stake presidencies and high councils seek to know the Lord’s will about how to help Church members who have committed serious transgressions.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify what a high council is.
What is a high council? (A group of 12 high priests presided over by “one or three presidents.” In the Church today, a stake president and his counselors preside over a high council.)
Explain that the high council described in Doctrine and Covenants 102 was different in some ways from high councils in stakes today. It had general jurisdiction in Kirtland, Ohio, and the surrounding areas and was presided over by the First Presidency. However, as Church membership increased, stakes were organized and stake presidencies and high councils were called to administer the Church within their individual stake boundaries.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the purpose of a high council and how it is appointed.
How is a high council appointed? What is its purpose?
After students respond to the questions above, write the following truth on the board: A high council is appointed by revelation to settle important difficulties that arise in the Church. Explain that “important difficulties” generally refers to situations in which members have committed serious transgression.
Explain that President Lee’s account at the beginning of the lesson provides an example of one responsibility of a high council: to act as a Church disciplinary council, under the direction of the stake presidency. To help the class understand the purpose of disciplinary councils, invite a student to read the following statement aloud. Ask the class to listen for the three purposes of Church disciplinary councils.
“The most serious transgressions, such as serious violations of civil law, spouse abuse, child abuse, adultery, fornication, rape, and incest, often require formal Church discipline. Formal Church discipline may include restriction of Church membership privileges or loss of Church membership. …
“… The purposes of disciplinary councils are to  save the souls of transgressors,  protect the innocent, and  safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church.
“Church discipline is an inspired process that takes place over a period of time. Through this process and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, a member can receive forgiveness of sins, regain peace of mind, and gain strength to avoid transgression in the future” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 37–38).
What are the three purposes of Church disciplinary councils?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for phrases that describe how members of a high council are to fulfill their calling. Then ask students to report what they have found.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 102:6–11 by telling students that these verses explain how a high council is to operate when all of its members are not present. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:12–14 silently to learn how members of a high council are chosen to speak in a disciplinary council. Then ask students to report what they have found.
What does it mean to cast lots? (In this case, it means that council members draw numbers from 1 to 12.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:15–18 aloud, and ask the class to look for reasons why a high council draws numbers.
What do we learn from verses 15–16 about the way disciplinary councils are to be conducted? (After students have responded, write the following on the board: In the Church of Jesus Christ, disciplinary councils are to be conducted according to equity and justice.)
If a high councilor draws an even number during a disciplinary council, what is his responsibility? How does this show the Lord’s concern for Church members who commit serious sin?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:19 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify what the president of the council must do after hearing both sides of a case. Then ask students to report what they have found.
How would it help the stake president make a decision to first hear members of the council speak for the interests of the accused as well as the interests of the Church?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley, and invite the class to notice what the president of a council does in addition to hearing both sides of a case:
“I wish to assure you … that I think there is never a judgment rendered until after prayer has been had. Action against a member is too serious a matter to result from the judgment of men alone, and particularly of one man alone. There must be the guidance of the Spirit, earnestly sought for and then followed, if there is to be justice” (“In … Counsellors There Is Safety,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 50).
What does the stake president do in addition to hearing both sides of a case?
According to verse 19, what does the president call upon the council to do after he makes a decision?
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 102:20–22 by explaining that these verses give instructions about what to do if there is uncertainty about the decision.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:23 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify what should be done in cases when doctrinal issues are unclear. Invite students to report what they learn.
What truth is taught in verse 23? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: The Lord reveals His mind to those who preside over disciplinary councils.)
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 102:27–34 by explaining that decisions of a stake disciplinary council can be appealed to the First Presidency.
Review with students the account told by President Harold B. Lee at the beginning of this lesson.
Who would you have more confidence in—the stake presidency and high council or the man who challenged their decision?
Based on the truths you have learned in your study of Doctrine and Covenants 102, why can we place confidence in decisions made by Church disciplinary councils?
After students respond, you may want to invite a student to read aloud the remainder of President Lee’s account:
“I asked him to come into the office and we sat down, and I asked, ‘Would you mind if I ask you a few personal questions?’
“He said, ‘Certainly not.’ …
“‘How old are you?’
“‘What priesthood do you hold?’
“He said he thought he was a teacher.
“‘Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?’
“‘Well, no.’ …
“‘Do you pay your tithing?’
“He said, ‘No’—and he didn’t intend to as long as that … man was the bishop of the Thirty-Second Ward.
“I said, ‘Do you attend your priesthood meetings?’
“He replied, ‘No, sir!’ …
“‘You don’t attend your sacrament meetings either?’
“‘Do you have your family prayers?’ and he said no.
“‘Do you study the scriptures?’ He said well, his eyes were bad, and he couldn’t read very much. …
“‘Now, then,’ I said, ‘fifteen of the best-living men in the Pioneer Stake prayed last night. … and every man was united. … Now you, who do none of these things, you say you prayed and got an opposite answer. How would you explain that?’
“Then this man gave an answer that I think was a classic. He said, ‘Well, President Lee, I think I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source’” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 421–22).
Consider sharing your testimony concerning why we can trust the decisions of stake presidencies and high councils in the Church.