Doctrine and Covenants 20

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 51–54


About 60 people attended the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York. Some came from as far away as Colesville, 160 kilometers (100 miles) to the south. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were sustained, after which they ordained each other as Church leaders. They administered the sacrament and confirmed previously baptized individuals, giving them the gift of the Holy Ghost. Later in the day they baptized others. Section 20, given on or before this date, instructed the Prophet to organize the Church. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “We call section 20 in the Doctrine and Covenants the constitution of the Church, meaning it is the document that sets forth what the basic doctrines, organizational structure, and procedures of the Church are” (Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, ed. Mark L. McConkie [1989], 271).

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Additional Resources

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–43, pp. 67–69.

  • Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Religion 324–325, pp. 39–43.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 20. The Lord revealed the order of His Church.

(5 minutes)

Have students turn to the photograph of the restored Peter Whitmer Sr. log house in the back of their scriptures (no. 6), and ask them what significant event in Church history took place there. Read the introduction and share materials on the organization of the Church from the additional resource section above. (See also note 6 in the beginning of the maps and photographs section of the scriptures.) Ask:

  • What are some reasons you are grateful that the Church was restored and organized?

  • How are our meetings today different from the first meeting in the Church?

  • How are our meetings the same?

    Meetings chart

Prepare two pictures as in the accompanying diagram. Tell students you will show them two items and that they should try to draw what they see. Explain that they will see each item for one second only, so they should pay close attention.

Show them the first picture, give them time to draw, and then show them the second picture. When they finish the second drawing, ask:

  • Which picture was easiest to draw? Why? (Point out that both pictures have the same number of lines, but in one they are organized and in the other they are not.)

  • Why is it important to have order in God’s kingdom? (see 1 Corinthians 14:33; D&C 132:8).

Explain that when the Lord restored His Church, He gave a revelation on how it should be organized. Section 20 can be compared to a “constitution.” Ask:

  • What is a constitution? (A document that outlines procedures and rules by which an organization is governed.)

  • How does a constitution promote order?

  • What blessings come to the Church as a result of having a governing set of rules?

Encourage students to look for ways that Doctrine and Covenants 20 promotes order.

Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–4. Jesus Christ’s authority was necessary for restoring His Church. Priesthood holders are called by God, sustained, and ordained by one with proper priesthood authority.

(5–10 minutes)

Tell students: Imagine you have borrowed a friend’s car and are stopped by the police. The officer asks to see the car registration and finds out the car does not belong to you.

  • Under what circumstances might the officer allow you to continue on your way?

  • Under what circumstances might the officer arrest you for car theft?

Have students read Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–4 and tell what happened in verse 1. Ask:

  • What did Joseph and Oliver already have before organizing the Church? (The priesthood.)

  • Why would it be important to have the priesthood before organizing the Church?

  • How does that compare with the example of borrowing your friend’s car?

  • Who has authority today to direct the work of the Lord?

Share the following statement by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith was chosen to reestablish the Church, to receive and administer priesthood authority, and to restore plain and precious truths lost to human knowledge” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 112; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 84).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:8–28. The Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel, testifies to the truth of the Bible, and teaches about Jesus Christ and His mission.

(10–15 minutes)

Write the following phrase on the board, leaving the words in italics blank: “No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon” (Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1961, 18; italics added). Have students ask 20 yes-or-no questions to determine what is missing. Invite them to ponder if they have “seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon.”

Have students read Doctrine and Covenants 20:8–28 and list everything they can find about the Book of Mormon. Invite a few students to share what they found. Ask: If you know the Book of Mormon is true, what else do you know about:

  • Joseph Smith?

  • The Restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

  • The restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods?

  • The principles of the gospel?

Share the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson:

“The Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church. But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true—and millions have now testified that they have the witness of the Spirit that it is indeed true—then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 6).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:25–26, 37, 72–74. Those who humble themselves, have faith, desire baptism, repent, and are willing to take upon them the name of Christ and serve Him to the end are worthy of baptism.

(5–10 minutes)

Write on the board D&C 20:25–26; D&C:20:37; D&C:20:72–74. Invite the class to imagine that a nonmember friend who is interested in the gospel asks them what our scriptures teach about baptism. Invite three students to read the three sets of verses on the board, and discuss as a class what they teach.

Doctrine and Covenants 20:17–34. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we may receive the blessings of repentance, justification, sanctification, and salvation in the kingdom of God.

(15–20 minutes)

Show students the accompanying pictures. (Use the larger versions on page 312 of the appendix.) Ask:

Read Doctrine and Covenants 20:21–24 and ask:

  • What did the Lord do so we can become clean again like the third picture?

  • What must we do to become clean? (seev. 29).

  • Read verse 30. What word does the Lord use to describe this clean condition?

  • How is the third canvas like us after we repent and are baptized? (Compare the third canvas to the first.)

  • How do these canvases relate to what is depicted in the fourth canvas?

Explain that justification means to be cleansed and forgiven. Share the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

“An act that is justified by the Spirit is one that is … ratified and approved by the Holy Ghost. …

“As with all other doctrines of salvation, justification is available because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, but it becomes operative in the life of an individual only on conditions of personal righteousness” (Mormon Doctrine, 408).

Explain that sanctification means to become holy, righteous, and Christlike. President Brigham Young taught:

“When the will, passions, and feelings of a person are perfectly submissive to God and His requirements, that person is sanctified. It is for my will to be swallowed up in the will of God” (in Journal of Discourses, 2:123).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–71. There are several offices in the priesthood, and each office includes specific duties.

(15–20 minutes)

Give students the following quiz about the priesthood.

  1. 1.

    What office in the priesthood is needed to bless the sacrament? (Priest; see D&C 20:46.)

  2. 2.

    What office is needed to baptize someone? (Priest; see v. 46.)

  3. 3.

    What office is needed to ordain someone a deacon? (Priest; see v. 48.)

  4. 4.

    What office is needed to give someone the gift of the Holy Ghost? (Elder; see vv. 41, 43.)

  5. 5.

    What office is needed to ordain an elder? (Elder; see v. 39.)

  6. 6.

    What office is to expound, exhort, teach, and invite all to come unto Christ? (Deacon, teacher, priest, and elder; see vv. 42, 47, 50–51, 59.)

Have students spend a few minutes studying Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–59, and then correct the quiz by going over the verses following each question.

Write these headings on the board: Elder (see vv. 38–45, 70 ), Priest ( see vv. 46–52 ), Teacher (see vv. 53–59 ), Deacon (see vv. 57–59). Divide the class into four groups, and assign each group one of the priesthood offices on the board. Have the groups read the accompanying verses and list under their heading what their verses teach about that office. Discuss their findings.

Read verses 60–65; Articles of Faith 1:5 and ask: What must happen before someone can be ordained to the priesthood? Ask the Aaronic priesthood holders in your class: What are you doing now to magnify your responsibilities in the priesthood? Ask the young women: What can you do now and later in life to support and sustain the priesthood? Ask the young men: What can you do now to prepare to receive the priesthood or to advance in the priesthood?

Share the following statement by President James E. Faust, a counselor in the First Presidency:

“Priesthood is the greatest power on earth. Worlds were created by and through the priesthood. … Priesthood power is the power and authority delegated by God to act in His name for the salvation of His children. Caring for others is the very essence of priesthood responsibility. It is the power to bless, to heal, and to administer the saving ordinances of the gospel. Righteous priesthood authority is most needed within the walls of our own homes. It must be exercised in great love. This is true of all priesthood holders—deacon, teacher, priest, elder, high priest, patriarch, Seventy, and Apostle” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 56–57; or Ensign, May 1997, 41).

Doctrine and Covenants 20:75–79. The purpose of the sacrament is to remember the Savior’s sacrifice and renew our baptismal covenants.

(20–25 minutes)

Ask students: What ordinance can we participate in more than once for ourselves? When they say the sacrament, read Doctrine and Covenants 20:75–79 and ask:

  • What does the Lord say is “expedient”? (v. 75).

  • According to verse 75, why do we take the sacrament?

  • Who has the authority to administer the sacrament? (see v. 76).

  • How are they to administer it?

  • What covenants do we renew when we take the sacrament? (see vv. 37, 77).

  • What promise does the Lord make if we partake worthily? (see vv. 77, 79).

  • Read verse 80; 3 Nephi 18:28–29. How do these verses relate to one another?

  • Why do you think it is important to take the sacrament frequently?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:

“So important is [baptism] in the eyes of the Lord that he has provided for us a means and a way to renew it often. The ordinance whereby we renew this covenant is the ordinance of the sacrament” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1950, 14).

Write this matching exercise on the board or give it to students as a handout. Have them match the definitions on the right with the words on the left.

(Answers: 1–H, 2–B, 3–G, 4–F, 5–A, 6–C, 7–E, 8–D)

When students finish, have them reread verses 77, 79, replacing the key words with the definitions. Ask: What additional understanding do you gain by reading the prayers this way? Share the following statement by President David O. McKay, who was then a counselor in the First Presidency: “No more sacred ordinance is administered in the Church of Christ than the … sacrament” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 112).

Invite students to write on a piece of paper ways they can make the sacrament more meaningful in their lives.