When the Church was organized in April 1830, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ordained First and Second Elder (see D&C 20:1–3). In March 1832 the Prophet Joseph, as President of the Church, chose counselors to serve with him in the First Presidency, and in March 1833 these counselors were ordained (see D&C 81 heading; 90 heading. By January 1834 the Church had over 3,000 members—fewer than in an average stake today. The increased membership created a need for additional help in Church government. In February 1834, the Lord directed Joseph Smith to organize the first high council of the Church (see D&C 102:1–11) and gave instructions for holding disciplinary councils (see D&C 102:12–27).
This first high council was different in some ways from stake high councils today. It had general jurisdiction throughout the Church and was presided over by the First Presidency. When other stakes were organized, a separate stake presidency and high council were appointed for each of them. Since this first high council was organized about a year before the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, some of the instructions in section 102 also apply to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, who now have general jurisdiction throughout the Church.
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–43, pp. 120–22.
Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Religion 324–325, pp. 245–47.
Suggestions for Teaching
Doctrine and Covenants 102:1–11. The Lord established councils to govern the affairs of His Church.
If you live in a stake, write on the board the names of three or four members of your stake high council. Ask students to tell what Church calling these men have. Read the section heading for Doctrine and Covenants 102 and verses 1–2, 4, 6–11. Ask:
How was the Kirtland high council organized? (see v. 1).
What were some of their responsibilities? (see v. 2).
Who presides over the high council? (see vv. 9–11).
What other councils exist in the Church today? (Family councils, ward councils, stake councils, the Council of the Twelve, and so on.)
Why do you think the Lord uses councils to do the work of the Church?
Have a student read the following statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard:
“When we act in a united effort, we create spiritual synergism, which is increased effectiveness or achievement as a result of combined action or cooperation, the result of which is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
“The ancient moralist Aesop used to illustrate the strength of synergism by holding up one stick and asking for a volunteer among his listeners who thought he could break it. Of course, the volunteer was able to break one stick easily. Then Aesop would put more sticks together until the volunteer was unable to break them. The moral to Aesop’s demonstration was simple: Together we generate synergism, which makes us much stronger than when we stand alone” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 103–4; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 77).
Elder Ballard explained:
“God called a grand council in the premortal world to present His glorious plan for our eternal welfare. The Lord’s church is organized with councils at every level, beginning with the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and extending to stake, ward, quorum, auxiliary, and family councils.
“President Stephen L. Richards [a counselor in the First Presidency] said:
“‘The genius of our Church government is government through councils. … I have had enough experience to know the value of councils. Hardly a day passes but that I see … God’s wisdom, in creating councils … to govern his Kingdom. …
“‘… I have no hesitancy in giving you the assurance, if you will confer in council as you are expected to do, God will give you solutions to the problems that confront you’ (in Conference Report, Oct. 1953, p. 86)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 102; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 76).
Invite students to tell how this statement relates to the discussion. Remind students that while women do not serve on stake high councils, they are an important part of other councils on the ward and stake level. Share the following statement by Elder Ballard:
“Brethren, please be sure you are seeking the vital input of the sisters in your council meetings. Encourage all council members to share their suggestions and ideas about how the stake or ward can be more effective in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 103; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 76).
Doctrine and Covenants 102:9–33. The Lord organized Church disciplinary councils to protect the innocent, help sinners repent, and keep the Church free of sin and acceptable to God.
Note: It might be helpful to have a bishop or stake president discuss disciplinary councils with your students. Please be considerate of the demands on Church leaders’ time.
Write on the board No Action, Formal Probation, Disfellowshipment, Excommunication. Ask students where they think these words are used in the Church. (Disciplinary councils.) Explain that when Church members commit serious sin, it is necessary for them to confess those sins to their bishop or branch president and in some cases the stake, district, or mission president. These officers are called and set apart as judges in Israel (see D&C 107:72–74). They have the authority to deal with a transgression informally or to hold a disciplinary council to consider the options listed on the board. Share the following statement: “[Church] councils are conducted in love and are intended to help a person repent and once again enjoy the full blessings of the gospel” (Priesthood Leader’s Guidebook , 14).
Tell students that section 102 includes a description of how a high council conducts a disciplinary council. Read verses 12–18 and ask:
How does a disciplinary council determine who and how many will speak?
What role does each high councilor play in a disciplinary council?
How does the Lord ensure that the council is just and fair to everyone involved?
How can a disciplinary council help a person repent and get back on the path to eternal life?
Tell students that the purpose of a disciplinary council is not to harm but to bless, show love, and offer help. Share the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency:
“In times of disciplinary councils, the three brethren of the bishopric, or the three brethren of the stake presidency, or the three brethren of the presidency of the Church, sit together, discuss matters together, pray together, in the process of reaching a decision. I wish to assure you, my brethren, 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 Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 65; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 50).
Read verses 19–22, 27–28 and ask:
What happens after all the evidence has been heard?
Under what circumstances can a case be reheard?
How far is it possible to appeal the decision of a disciplinary council?
What determines if a case can be taken to the First Presidency?
What do Church disciplinary councils show about the Lord’s love for His children?