President Harold B. Lee said of the importance of teaching the gospel in the home:
“As we read from the writings of the early prophets, we discover what seems to have been the underlying evil which brought about the wickedness which caused God, who had created mankind, to weep. In a revelation to his faithful prophet Enoch, God declared that the remnant of his children were without natural affection, even hating their own blood, which in all likelihood meant their children.
“In his answer to Enoch’s question as to why he wept, God replied that ‘… among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.’
“Then he added: ‘… behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers. …’ (Moses 7:36–37.) Evidently the parents of that generation had committed the great sin of failing to comply with the command given to all parents from Adam’s day down to our own day. They had failed to teach the doctrines of salvation to their children.
“The Lord has warned us that, as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man. God grant that this people will heed the call of our prophet-leaders and teach their children as the Lord has commanded and escape the chastening hand of Almighty God.”1
This chapter will discuss the great responsibilities given to parents to teach the gospel to their children and prepare them to live righteous lives.
Teachings of Harold B. Lee
Why is the home the most important place to teach the gospel?
Our homes must not only be sanctuaries but also places of preparation from which our youth can go forth confidently to lead and to face a turbulent world. We all know that what is learned at home has an amazing persistence; what is seen and experienced at home either helps or haunts our youth for years to come. Our homes could be models for all of mankind, but we will have to take much more seriously the counsel of Church leaders on this topic than we have done heretofore. This has always been a special challenge, but is made more so now because of the general decay in the homes of our time. Children can “feel and see” the gospel in action at home. They can see its rightness and power firsthand; they can see how it meets the needs of the individual.2
Again and again has been repeated the statement that the home is the basis of a righteous life. … Both the revelations of God and the learning of men tell us how crucial the home is in shaping the individual’s total life experience.3
It is becoming increasingly clear that the home and family are the key to the future of the Church. An unloved child, a child who has not known discipline, work, or responsibility, will often yield to satanic substitutes for happiness—drugs, sexual experimentation, and rebellion, whether it is intellectual or behavioral. …
There is no better place than in the home to teach and learn about marriage, love, and sex as these can properly combine in a sanctified temple marriage. There is no better place to deal with the doubts of our young than where there is love—at home. Love can free our youth to listen to those whom they know they can trust. …
Can a child come to love his neighbor unless he has known love himself? Can a young person who has never been trusted learn to trust? Can a boy who has never known work or responsibility see how those vital traits are needed to hold our whole society together? Can a girl who has not been a part of honest, candid discussions of gospel principles in her home cope with the criticisms of the world and the intellectual assaults on her religion? … Without experiencing a gospel principle in action, it is much more difficult to believe in that principle. …
In a time that we have been told would be much as in the days of Noah, we must help our young to learn how to make right choices, to grow in justified self-esteem, especially when they can be under the direct influence of the home, where family love can make repentance both possible and significant. The environment of our young outside the home and Church will often be either empty, so far as values are concerned, or it will contain ideas that contradict the principles of the gospel.4
Upon the parents in the home and upon the Church there is placed a great responsibility to so teach the truths of the gospel that an anchor will be provided for each soul. Without such an anchor, man would be as the “waves of the sea driven by the winds and tossed,” driven by every wind of doctrine of uncertain origin that would muddle his thinking as to that which is wrong in the sight of God [see Ephesians 4:14; James 1:6]. We should be the best-educated people on the face of the earth if we heed the injunctions of the Lord.
If our youth are thus fortified, they will not be disturbed in their religious faith when they come in contact with false educational ideas that contradict the truths of the gospel. They are armed against the poison darts of slander and hypocrisy.
Young men … , if guided in their thinking by “rock bottom” truth, will not yield in an unguarded moment of weakness to a temptation that would be a moral blight throughout their lives. …
Young sweethearts approaching marriage, if guided by thoughts conveyed by gospel truth, would sanctify themselves by keeping the law of celestial marriage to gain eternal happiness.5
The Lord said that the power was not given to Satan to tempt little children, “until they begin to become accountable before me” (D&C 29:47). This very significant statement follows: “That great things may be required at the hand of their fathers” (D&C 29:48). Now, that means parents. Why is it that the Lord doesn’t permit Satan to tempt a little child until he comes to the age of accountability? It’s in order to give parents their golden opportunity to plant in the hearts of little children those vital things except for which, when that time of accountability comes, they may have waited too long.6
We, the fathers, the teachers, the mothers, we have [a] great [task] in building human souls. True, Satan cannot tempt little children before they come to the age of accountability; but Satan gets in his licks by trying to make those of us who are entrusted with their care and their training to be negligent and careless and allow them to develop those little tendencies that will lead them away, and will [make them] unfit for the great responsibilities in meeting the contest with Satan, and fail to put on that armor by the time they come to the age of accountability.7
We must impress upon every father that he will be held responsible for the eternal welfare of his family: that means coming into the Church with his family; that means going to sacrament meeting with his family; that means holding family home evenings to keep his family intact; it means preparing himself to take them to the temple, so that there can be prepared thereby the steps that will make for an eternal family home.8
Oh, you mothers, you fathers, I plead for the return to a sense of the complete responsibility for those treasured souls. Except you prepare them for this day that is coming, who is going to? That day when [the Lord] shall come as a thief in the night, are you preparing them to stand in His presence? When they are out there on the battlefield, when they are faced with danger, and faced with temptation, is your motherly love going to extend over those thousands of miles and hold that son or daughter steadfast?9
What gospel principles should we teach children?
The prophet Enos wrote about the teachings of his father. He said, “I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me … also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it” (Enos 1:1). I have pondered that statement, “My father taught me in the nurture.” What does that mean? Nurture means the process of moral training and discipline. “My father taught me and disciplined me in moral training.” What does admonition mean? It means gentle or friendly reproof, warnings or reminders. Blessed be the name of God for the father and mother that teach in the nurture and admonition of the Lord!10
The Lord himself has spoken plainly about this preparation for the safeguarding of youth from the dangerous pitfalls that would destroy them. He has placed a serious charge upon the homes of this land. Here are his words:
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. …
The most powerful weapon we have against the evils in the world today, regardless of what they are, is an unshakable testimony of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Teach your little children while they are at your knee and they will grow up to be stalwart. They may stray away, but your love and your faith will bring them back.12
Parents should remember their labors in all faithfulness, to see that there are no idlers, that children do not grow up in wickedness, but are to be taught to seek earnestly the riches of eternity, that their eyes are not full of greediness (see D&C 68:30–31). Now that is the responsibility of a father and a mother. The Lord gives the prime responsibility in the teaching of families to parents.13
Every child must be taught that he is an offspring of divine parentage and that it is the business of every child to learn to act like a son or daughter of God so that in time of need he might pray and be entitled to receive favors due a faithful child.
Every child must be taught that his body is a temple of God and whoso defileth a temple of God, him will God destroy [see 1 Corinthians 3:16–17].
Every child must learn that faith sufficient to perfection can only be developed by sacrifice and except he learns to sacrifice of his appetites and fleshly desires in obedience to the laws of the Gospel he cannot be sanctified and made holy before the Lord.
Every child must be taught to be reverent towards the symbols of sacred things and respectful of authority in the home, in the Church, and in the community.
Every child must be properly schooled in the use of his hands and head and made to understand that all passions are God-given and serve a godly purpose if kept under control.
Every child must be taught to use profitably his leisure time and that play is not an end in itself. It is but the rehearsal for the part he is to play in his mature life.
Every child must be given sufficient experience to learn that unselfish service brings joy and that the work one does for which he is not paid is that which produces the greatest happiness.14
Our children should hear, in the privacy of the home, the testimonies of their parents. How wise is the father or grandfather who takes occasion to bear his personal testimony to each of his children, individually!15
How can family home evenings help parents fulfill their gospel teaching responsibilities?
Greater emphasis on the teaching of the children in the home by the parents was brought forth in what we call the family home evening program. This was not new. … In the last epistle written to the Church by President Brigham Young and his Counselors, it was urged that parents bring their children together and teach them the gospel in the home frequently. So family home evening has been urged ever since the Church was established in this dispensation.16
If we neglect our families here in having family home night and we fail in our responsibility here, how would heaven look if we lost some of those through our own neglect? Heaven would not be heaven until we have done everything we can to save those whom the Lord has sent through our lineage. So, the hearts of you fathers and mothers must be turned to your children right now, if you have the true Spirit of Elijah, and not think that it applies merely to those who are beyond the veil. Let your hearts be turned to your children, and teach your children; but you must do it when they are young enough to be schooled. And if you are neglecting your family home evening, you are neglecting the beginning of the mission of Elijah just as certainly as if you were neglecting your research work of genealogy.17
Are we constantly working within our own home circle with children and grandchildren? Are we searching out our own sheep who are in danger of straying away from the shepherd or the sheepfold? Are we teaching our families [in] family home evening? Are we having home evenings ourselves, or are we saying, “Well, these lessons don’t apply to us, and Mother and I are all alone, and this is just for those with little children”?18
Now let me ask you a question. If you knew that you were suffering from an incurable disease and that your time on earth was to be limited and you had a family of little children dependent upon you for counsel, for direction, for leadership, what would you do in order to prepare them for your passing? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that kind of a sobering question?
Let me read you … from [a mother’s] letter: “When I first joined the Church, I used to contemplate the kind of a home I hoped to have someday. I projected my thinking to picture what to me was the most beautiful, satisfying situation I could envision. My husband and I formalize that mental picture when we gather our children together and teach them the gospel. … One thing that has both surprised and delighted us is the fact that our children have, without exception, learned to love our family home evenings. … I have begun to realize more and more how quickly our children grow up and how short a time we have as parents to teach them. …
“I had a serious illness last fall. I hope this doesn’t seem vain, but for the first time I realized how important I was to my own children. … As I lay helpless to care for any of their needs, knowing that except for my Heavenly Father’s intervention my influence upon them was ending in this life, how desirable and precious seemed the hours in the weeks and months and years ahead.
“I determined many things then concerning how to use that time, were it granted to me. One was to make a little bit of heaven on earth, to spend the time nightly reading and talking to the children. … Besides the other things they have been interested in, I have read most of the Book of Mormon to them from the children’s volume. … I have no doubt that it is meaningful to them when I hear my eight-year-old offer thanks in his prayers for the prophets who kept the records, or when my five-year-old son is thankful that Nephi got away safely into the wilderness with the faithful when Laman and Lemuel sought to kill him. Our experience has been that any time we have an opportunity to help our children expand in their love and understanding of the gospel and the Father who created them, our love for one another also increases and our family solidarity is influenced in the most significant way. For this reason, the weekly family home evening is of paramount importance to us.”19
In your homes, I pray you, say as Joshua did of old: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Teach your families in your family home evening; teach them to keep the commandments of God, for therein is our only safety in these days. If they will do that, the powers of the Almighty will descend upon them as the dews from heaven, and the Holy Ghost will be theirs.20
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
Why is the home crucial in shaping our children’s “total life experience”? Why must parents make teaching the gospel to their children a high priority from the time their children are young?
How can we make our homes sanctuaries from the unrighteousness and trouble of the world?
How can parents teach the principles in Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–28 to their children? How can parents help their children “learn that unselfish service brings joy”?
Why is it important for children to hear their parents’ testimonies of gospel principles?
In what ways does the mission of Elijah apply to parents rearing their children?
Why is it important to hold regular family home evenings? How have you been able to make your family home evenings successful?
In Conference Report, Apr. 1965, 13; or Improvement Era, June 1965, 496.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 297–98.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 267.
Ye Are the Light of the World (1974), 64–66.
Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 370–71.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 269.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 268.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 293.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 276.
Address to third annual Primary conference, 3 Apr. 1959, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1–2.
Decisions for Successful Living (1973), 24–25.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 273.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 277.
“For Every Child, His Spiritual and Cultural Heritage,” Children’s Friend, Aug. 1943, 373.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 279.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 266–67.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 280–81.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 268.
Address to general conference home teaching meeting, 8 Apr. 1966, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 273.