Since the organization of the Church, three major Church conferences had been held. The first was on 9 June 1830, the second on 26 September 1830, and the third on 2 January 1831. All of these conferences were held in Fayette, New York.
In February 1831 the Lord commanded the Prophet to call another conference. This conference convened in Kirtland on 3 June 1831, the fourth general conference of the Church and the first in Ohio. Section 44 of the Doctrine and Covenants contains the commandment and outlines some of the major purposes for gathering the Saints together in conferences.
Notes and Commentary
D&C 44:1. What Are Some Purposes for Conferences?
President David O. McKay explained:
“Reference to the Doctrine and Covenants will disclose the fact that there are four principal purposes of holding conferences of the Church:
“First, to transact current Church business [D&C 20:62],
“Second, to hear reports and general Church statistics [D&C 73:2],
“Third, to ‘approve of those names which I (the Lord) have appointed, or to disapprove of them’ [D&C 124:144],
Doctrine and Covenants section 52 states that one important purpose of the fourth general conference was to select brethren to go to Missouri to learn the location of the city of Zion. The conference, then, was to prepare the Saints for events and challenges yet to come. Elder Hugh B. Brown testified, “These great conferences are called for the purpose of inspiring us to prepare for the battle” (Church News, July 1968, p. 10).
D&C 44:2. What Great Promises Does the Lord Make to Those Who Assemble Together in His Name?
While this verse refers specifically to the general conference to be held at that time, the promise given can be applied to any gathering of the Saints. Compare Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
President Spencer W. Kimball bore this testimony at the conclusion of the April 1977 general conference: “We have all felt the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord as we have assembled in his name to worship and be instructed by the power of the Holy Ghost. This has always been the pattern of the meetings of the saints.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1977, pp. 112–13; or Ensign, May 1977, p. 76.)
D&C 44:4. Why Did the Saints Need to Organize Themselves According to the Laws of Men?
“When the Lord restored the Gospel the spirit of gathering came with it. The Lord commanded the people to gather together, and that they should not only be organized as a Church, but that they should be organized under the laws of the land, so that they might not be helpless and dependent and without influence or power; but that by means of united effort and faith they should become a power for the accomplishment of righteousness in the earth (D. & C. Sec. 44; 4–5).” (Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1900, p. 47.)
D&C 44:6. “Ye Must Visit the Poor and the Needy and Administer to Their Relief”
President George Q. Cannon wrote: “At no time during the Prophet’s career did the care of the poor escape his attention or become a matter of indifference to him. He was a man of large benevolence, and his sympathies were quickly aroused by any tale of sorrow or appeal for relief. In the most busy and trying periods of his life those who went to him for counsel in their troubles, always found him willing to listen, and they were sure to receive encouragement and assistance. To extend comfort to the bruised spirit, and to help the needy and distressed appeared a constant pleasure to him. His hospitality, also, was a marked feature in his character. His house was always open to entertain the stranger. One of the most cherished recollections of many of the old members of the church is the kindness with which they were treated by ‘Brother Joseph,’ and the warm welcome he gave them to his house upon their arrival at Kirtland and other places where he lived.” (Life of Joseph Smith, pp. 109–10.)