On the day the Church was organized, the Lord promised spiritual safety to those who would give heed to the words of the prophet (see D&C 21:4–6). Shortly thereafter, to help Church members avoid deception, the Lord further revealed that only the prophet is authorized to receive revelation for the whole Church (see D&C 28:1–7). The prophet also has authority to clarify scripture. Understanding these truths brings additional spiritual safety in these latter days.
Ask students what titles we sometimes use to refer to the President of the Church. Write students’ responses on the board. Then invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:1 aloud while the class follows along. List any additional titles on the board. Then ask:
How do each of the titles in this verse describe the work of the President of the Church?
Help students understand the context of Doctrine and Covenants 21 by explaining that the revelation it records was revealed on the day the Church was organized. (Note: When students learn to understand the context of a scripture, they are more likely to understand the meaning and importance of what they read.) Then ask:
Why would it have been important for early Church members to recognize that Joseph Smith’s calling as prophet differed significantly from the roles of leaders of other churches?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5 aloud while the class follows along. Then discuss the following:
Why does it sometimes take patience and faith to heed the prophet’s counsel?
As needed, consider sharing the following statement from President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) with students:
“We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet. … You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (D&C 21:6)” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee , 84).
As the Spirit prompts, you might explain the following:
As Latter-day Saints, we do not believe that prophets are perfect men. However, the Lord will never allow them to lead the Church astray (see Official Declaration 1, “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto”).
We believe and rejoice in continuing revelation. There have been occasions in Church history when one prophet has clarified previous prophetic counsel or identified teachings or practices once widely accepted that were later in need of change. For instance, in the early years of the Church, members were encouraged to gather to one central location, such as Kirtland, Ohio, or Jackson County, Missouri. Today, Church members are encouraged to gather in their local stakes or districts.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 21:6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify the promises given to those who heed the words of the prophet. You may want to suggest that students mark what they find. Then ask:
How would you summarize the promises given to those who heed the words of the prophet? (Though they may use different words, students should identify the following principle: If we heed the words of the prophet, we will be protected against the adversary. As students respond, you may want to explain that one meaning of shake is to dislodge or release something from a support or a container. Thus, one interpretation of verse 6 could be that when the heavens shake “for [our] good,” revelations and blessings are “released” and poured out upon us.)
Display the following statement by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, and ask a student to read it aloud:
“Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. …
“… But the choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. It becomes more dangerous. The failure to take prophetic counsel lessens our power to take inspired counsel in the future” (“Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, May 1997, 25).
Why would “the very ground upon which we stand” become “more dangerous” if we reject the counsel of prophets? What examples show that this is true?
When have you or someone you know been blessed by heeding the counsel of living prophets?
How can the principle of giving heed to prophetic counsel apply to religious, moral, and social questions of our day?
Encourage students to ponder what they can do to claim the blessings promised in Doctrine and Covenants 21:6. Assure them that as they earnestly heed the words of living prophets, they will receive great blessings now and in the eternities. Explain that heeding the counsel of prophets does not imply that we blindly obey their words.
Read aloud the following statement by President Harold B. Lee:
“It is not alone sufficient for us as Latter-day Saints to follow our leaders and to accept their counsel, but we have the greater obligation to gain for ourselves the unshakable testimony of the divine appointment of these men and the witness that what they have told us is the will of our Heavenly Father” (Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 45).
Explain that soon after the Church was organized, some members of the Church were deceived by efforts of the adversary to provide counterfeit prophetic direction. Invite a student to read aloud the section heading to Doctrine and Covenants 28 while the class follows along (see also Jeffrey G. Cannon, “All Things Must Be Done in Order: D&C 28, 43,” Revelations in Context series, Apr. 4, 2013, history.lds.org). Then ask:
If Church members had continued to believe in the supposed revelations from Hiram Page, what problems could have occurred?
Give students a moment to study Doctrine and Covenants 28:2, 6–7. Then ask:
How did this message from the Lord clarify the role of the President of the Church? (Students should understand the following doctrine: The President of the Church holds the keys to receive revelation for the Church.)
To help students deepen their understanding of this doctrine, ask a student to read aloud the following historical background for Doctrine and Covenants 43:
In February 1831, a woman named Mrs. Hubble came among the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio. She claimed that she was a prophetess, that she had received revelations for the Church, that she knew the Book of Mormon was true, and that she should become a teacher in the Church. She was able to deceive some of the Saints. Joseph Smith and others were concerned about her influence and about other false revelations among the Saints. The Prophet decided to inquire of the Lord about what should be done, and he received a revelation, now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 43 (see Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers , 257).
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 43:1–7 silently, looking for doctrines the Lord expounded at that time. You may want to suggest that students mark what they find. You might also suggest that they cross-reference these verses to Doctrine and Covenants 28:2. Point out that the revelation recorded in section 28 was directed to the Saints in New York, and the revelation recorded in section 43 was directed to the Saints in Kirtland. Then ask:
At the time the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 43 was given, who was appointed to receive commandments and revelations for the entire Church?
What doctrines can we learn from these verses? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following doctrines: There is only one person appointed at a time to receive revelation for the whole Church. Those who give heed to the President of the Church will not be deceived.)
Consider sharing the following statement by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“There is order in the way the Lord reveals His will to mankind. We all have the right to petition the Lord and receive inspiration through His Spirit within the realm of our own stewardship. Parents can receive revelation for their own family, a bishop for his assigned congregation, and on up to the First Presidency for the entire Church. … The Prophet Joseph Smith declared:
“‘It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves’ [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 197–98]” (“We Believe All That God Has Revealed,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 85–86).
How does knowing that revelation from God always comes through recognized priesthood channels help you avoid deception? How can this knowledge bring peace into your life?
How does the Lord’s pattern of revelation keep order in the Church?
Explain that as the Church grew the Lord directed the Prophet Joseph Smith in organizing the priesthood and membership of the Church.
Read aloud or summarize the following statement:
“As the Church increased in membership, the Prophet continued to receive revelation about priesthood offices. As directed by the Lord, he organized the First Presidency, made up of himself as the President and Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams as Counselors. He also organized the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Quorum of the Seventy. He called and ordained bishops and their counselors, high priests, patriarchs, high councils, seventies, and elders. He organized the Church’s first stakes” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 26).
Explain that the First Presidency holds a unique position in the Church. Invite students to study Doctrine and Covenants 90:1–6 and identify specific duties of the First Presidency. (The First Presidency “bear[s] the keys of the kingdom” [verse 2] and is the means through which “the oracles be given” to the Church [verse 4]). As students respond, you may need to explain that the word “oracles” refers to revelations from God given through His prophets.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for two different ways in which doctrine is established in the Church.
“In 1954, President J. Reuben Clark Jr., then a counselor in the First Presidency, explained how doctrine is promulgated in the Church and the preeminent role of the President of the Church. Speaking of members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he stated: ‘[We] should [bear] in mind that some of the General Authorities have had assigned to them a special calling; they possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. …’
“… The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelation to him (see, for example, D&C 138). Doctrinal exposition may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see, for example, Official Declaration 2)” (“The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 86–88).
Why is it important to remember who has the authority to declare the “mind and will of God” to the world?
Conclude by asking students to consider what they have learned from the messages of living prophets and apostles. Invite students to share their testimonies of how these messages have blessed them.