The Principles and Purposes of Church Courts Lesson 41: Section 102

Doctrine and Covenants Instructor’s Guide: Religion 324-325, (1981), 81–82


Theme

Church courts are provided for the blessing and protection of both the Church and the individual.

Theme Analysis

  • A.

    The principles revealed to govern Church courts are to ensure that truth, right, equity, and justice are served.

    1. 1.

      Three levels of courts are established in the Church—bishop’s court, high council (stake) court, and First Presidency court.

    2. 2.

      Special courts are also provided-elder’s courts (where there are no established wards), the Presiding Bishop’s court or “common council of the church” (D&C 107:82), and the special traveling high council of the Twelve Apostles (see Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government, pp. 212-14).

    3. 3.

      The rights of the accuser and the accused are to be protected.

    4. 4.

      Decisions are made by the presiding officer of the court but sustained by the entire body.

    5. 5.

      Appeals from the two lower courts are provided for.

  • B.

    The purpose of Church courts is to extend love and redemption, not retribution.

    1. 1.

      Courts enable the responsible Church officer to keep the Church unspotted from the sins of the world.

    2. 2.

      The primary objective of Church courts is to help rebellious and sinful members repent.

Study Sources

Student Manual

Section 102; Enrichment I, “Judges in Israel: Watching over the Church”

Use material from Historical Background and Notes and Commentary to teach this revelation in its historical context.

Standard Works

  • D&C 102. Keeping in mind the theme of this lesson, read and ponder this section.

  • D&C 107:72-74. What is the special judicial responsibility of a bishop?

  • D&C 107:78-80. What is the highest court in the Church? Is there any appeal from this body?

  • D&C 42:80. How is evidence established in Church courts?

  • D&C 134:10. What punishments are limited within a Church system of administering justice?

  • Deuteronomy 1:17. How is judgment administered?

  • John 7:24. What caution concerning judgment does the Savior give here?

For additional references see topical guide, s.v. “Judgment,” “Justice.” Basic Library

Basic Library

  • Teachings, pp. 164-65. What special instructions are given for trials?

  • Teachings, p. 69. What prerequisite for judging is given here?

  • Discourses, pp. 133-34. What promises rest upon judges in their decisions?

  • Discourses, p. 144. What is a bishop’s responsibility in administering justice?

  • Discourses, pp. 149-50. Counsel for high council courts and judging.

  • Gos. Doc, pp. 152-54. What are the duties of bishops and high councils relating to their jurisdictions?

  • Gos. Doc, p. 181. Under what spirit are Church councils to function?

  • M of F, pp. 177-89. A thorough review of the principles of confession.

  • M of F, pp. 323-37. The role of the Church and its agents in obtaining forgiveness.

  • N. Eldon Tanner, in CR, Oct. 1978, pp. 56-62. How can interviews bless an individual’s life?

  • Spencer W. Kimball, in CR, Apr. 1975, pp. 115-16. What is the judge’s responsibility in administering discipline?

  • N. Eldon Tanner, in CR, Oct, 1974, pp. 110-11. What kinds of transgressions are to be dealt with in Church courts?

Additional Sources

  • Robert L. Simpson, in CR, Apr. 1972, pp. 30-33. Church courts are courts of love.

  • Stephen L Richards, in CR, Apr. 1954, pp. 10-13. How long does it take for repentance to be complete?

  • Spencer W. Kimball, “What Is True Repentance?” New Era, May 1974, pp. 4-7. Why are punishments necessary?

  • Robert L. Simpson, “Cast Your Burden upon the Lord,” New Era, Jan. 1977, pp. 4-8. How can courts help strengthen the individual?

  • Robert L. Simpson, New Era, July 1975, pp. 47-48. Discusses the process of and the reasons for excommunication.

Some Suggestions for Presentation

(Ideas Other Teachers Have Used)

Church Discipline: The Right of a Religious Society (Discussion)

Commence the lesson by reading Doctrine and Covenants 134:10 with the class. Point out that excommunication is the severance of an individual from all Church blessings, including ordinary rights of membership (though they may still attend general meetings); disfellowshipment is a lesser punishment in which one is denied, for a specified time, the opportunity to partake of the sacrament, to pray or speak in Church, or to otherwise participate for a specified time. Point out that full recovery from either form of discipline is attainable but only on conditions of complete repentance. Following excommunciation, one may be readmitted to the Church by baptism, while disfellowshipment is terminated by decision of the court of original jurisdiction without the performance of any ordiance being necessary. Temple and priesthood blessings lost by excommunication can only be restored by approval of the First Presidency. It is the Church’s way of disciplining members in order to aid their repentance and to indicate to the world that the Church holds certain things to be so serious that they will not be tolerated by those in full fellowship.

Purpose of the Church Court System (Chalkboard Illustration, Discussion)

Point out that the courts of the Church are courts of love. The Church does not exist to hurt or harm anyone, but discipline is necessary in some instances in order to keep the Church as pure and free from the presence of sin as possible. Read the statement of Joseph Smith’s found in Teachings (p. 69) regarding the heavy responsibility upon one who sits in judgment on another human being, especially for membership in the Church. Excommunication can result in the eventual loss of salvation. An examining court must be certain that the proper blend of justice and mercy are present in any court action.

The teacher might point out the three levels of Church courts and their differences.

Court

Members

Jurisdiction

Appeal

Bishop’s court

Bishop and counselors (bishop presides)

All ward members (restricted discipline for Melchizedek Priesthood bearers)

High council court

High council court

Stake presidency and high council (stake president presides)

All stake members (often referred by bishop’s court or appealed from bishop’s court)

First Presidency court

First Presidency court

First Presidency (may also call twelve high priests to assist as counselors)

All Church members (deals mostly with appeals)

None

A fuller discussion of possible court actions, jurisdictions, and obligations the Church’s judicial system is found in Enrichment I, “Judges in Israel: Watching over the Church.”