It is humbling and inspiring to ponder the price people have paid for the truth. Many have been baptized despite being rejected by their families for their decision. Prophets and many others have died rather than deny their testimonies. Referring to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Elder John Taylor declared that the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants “cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth” (D&C 135:6).
Each person who teaches the gospel is required to pass on to others, in pure and undistorted form, the truths for which such great sacrifices have been made. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “I have spoken before about the importance of keeping the doctrine of the Church pure, and seeing that it is taught in all of our meetings. I worry about this. Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley , 620).
Your Responsibilities as a Teacher
As you prepare and present lessons, you should take the following precautions to ensure that you teach the truth as the Lord has revealed it.
Teach by the Spirit from the Scriptures and the Words of Latter-day Prophets
President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “What should be the source for teaching the great plan of the Eternal God? The scriptures, of course—particularly the Book of Mormon. This should also include the other modern-day revelations. These should be coupled with the words of the Apostles and prophets and the promptings of the Spirit” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 107; or Ensign, May 1987, 85).
Use Church-Produced Lesson Materials
To help us teach from the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets, the Church has produced lesson manuals and other materials. There is little need for commentaries or other reference material. We should study the scriptures, teachings of latter-day prophets, and lesson materials thoroughly to be sure we correctly understand the doctrine before we teach it.
Teach the Truths of the Gospel and Not Other Things
When Alma ordained priests to teach those he had baptized in the waters of Mormon, “he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets” (Mosiah 18:19). When the Savior’s twelve Nephite disciples taught the people, they “ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken” (3 Nephi 19:8). As you teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, you should follow these examples.
Teach Gospel Truths Clearly So That No One Will Misunderstand Them
President Harold B. Lee stated, “You’re to teach the old doctrines, not so plain that they can just understand, but you must teach the doctrines of the Church so plainly that no one can misunderstand” (“Loyalty,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. , 64).
Cautions for Gospel Teachers
As you strive to keep the doctrine pure, you should avoid the following problems.
“In presenting a lesson there are many ways for the undisciplined teacher to stray from the path that leads to his objective. One of the most common temptations is to speculate on matters about which the Lord has said very little. The disciplined teacher has the courage to say, ‘I don’t know,’ and leave it at that. As President Joseph F. Smith said, ‘It is no discredit to our intelligence or to our integrity to say frankly in the face of a hundred speculative questions, “I don’t know”’ [Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 9]” (Joseph F. McConkie, “The Disciplined Teacher,” Instructor, Sept. 1969, 334–35).
“The disciplined teacher will be sure of his sources and will also make every effort to determine whether a statement properly represents the doctrine of the Church or is merely the opinion of the author” (Instructor, Sept. 1969, 334–35).
We should not attribute statements to Church leaders without confirming the source of the statements. When we quote scriptures, we should ensure that our use of them is consistent with their context (see
“Gospel hobbies—the special or exclusive emphasis of one principle of the gospel—should also be avoided by teachers” (Instructor, Sept. 1969, 334–35).
President Joseph F. Smith said: “Hobbies give to those who encourage them a false aspect of the gospel of the Redeemer; they distort and place out of harmony its principles and teachings. The point of view is unnatural. Every principle and practice revealed from God is essential to man’s salvation, and to place any one of them unduly in front, hiding and dimming all others, is unwise and dangerous; it jeopardizes our salvation, for it darkens our minds and beclouds our understandings” (Gospel Doctrine, 116–17).
“Perhaps the greatest temptation of the teacher struggling to maintain the attention of [a] class is the use of the sensational story. There are a number of these, of very questionable origin, continually being circulated throughout the Church. … These are not teaching tools: stability and testimony are not built on sensational stories. Direction for us from the Prophet is dispensed through proper priesthood channels. Careful attention should be paid to the messages of the General Authorities in stake and general conferences, and Church publications should be read regularly. Meaningful attention will be accorded the teacher who establishes the reputation of being orthodox and sound in doctrine” (Instructor, Sept. 1969, 334–35).
Reshaping Church History
President Ezra Taft Benson cautioned: “There have been and continue to be attempts made to bring [a humanistic] philosophy into our own Church history. … The emphasis is to underplay revelation and God’s intervention in significant events and to inordinately humanize the prophets of God so that their human frailties become more apparent than their spiritual qualities” (“God’s Hand in Our Nation’s History,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year , 310).
Speaking of these attempts, President Benson later said, “We would warn you teachers of this trend, which seems to be an effort to reinterpret the history of the Church so that it is more rationally appealing to the world” (The Gospel Teacher and His Message [address to religious educators, 17 Sept. 1976], 11).
Private Interpretations and Unorthodox Views
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said, “Only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church” (in Church News, 31 July 1954, 10). We should not teach our private interpretation of gospel principles or the scriptures.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball stated: “There are those today who seem to take pride in disagreeing with the orthodox teachings of the Church and who present their own opinions which are at variance with the revealed truth. Some may be partially innocent in the matter; others are feeding their own egotism; and some seem to be deliberate. Men may think as they please, but they have no right to impose upon others their unorthodox views. Such persons should realize that their own souls are in jeopardy” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 109).