The Law and Order of the Church
(D&C 41–59; 66–77)
By Randal S. Chase
A Revelation on Church Organization and Doctrine (D&C 41)
D&C 41 was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith on February 4, 1831, at the Newel K. Whitney home in Kirtland, Ohio ( History of the Church , 1:146–47). This was the first in a series of revelations on how the Church should be governed.
D&C 41:1–3 The elders shall govern the Church by the spirit of revelation.
D&C 41:4–6 True disciples will receive and keep the Lord’s law.
The Office of a Bishop (D&C 41, 51, 58)
The Church needed a bishop. The Saints were gathering into Kirtland by the thousands, without jobs or land or homes. In order to deal with this situation, and to prepare His people for a coming Zion society, the Lord would soon introduce the law of consecration and set the bishop at the head of its administration.
D&C 41:7–11 Edward Partridge is named as the first presiding bishop of the Church.
D&C 72:2, 8 Newel K. Whitney was also ordained a bishop in December 1831. Bishop Partridge had been called to Missouri, where he continued to preside. Another bishop was needed to direct the temporal affairs of the Church in Ohio.
At the time of his call, Bishop Partridge sought instructions from the Prophet concerning his duties, and received D&C 51 in response.
D&C 51:1–12 He was “to organize this people” that they “may be one.”
D&C 51:15–20 Wherever we live, we are to act as if our stay there is permanent, not excusing inactivity or slothfulness because ‘we won’t be there long.
D&C 58:17–18 Bishops are also judges in Israel.
Reading and Heeding the Words of the Lord
D&C 41:12 The importance of studying and living by the scriptures. When the Lord speaks, it is not a light matter. We must regard the word of the Lord with seriousness and sanctity.
Spencer W. Kimball said: “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel.” ( The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball , 135).
The Law of the Church (D&C 42)
While the Saints were still in New York, the Lord promised them that after they gathered to Ohio He would give them “the law” (D&C 38:32; 41:2–3). Consequently, twelve elders met on February 9 in prayer, and seven elders met later, on February 23, to inquire of the Lord about the “law” he had promised to give them. Section 42 is the fulfillment of that promise.
This revelation was given in two pieces—the first on February 9, 1831 (vv. 1–73) and the second on February 23, 1831 (vv. 74–93), in the Newel K. Whitney home in Kirtland. Because it is comprised of these two distinct, though closely related, revelations, it was originally printed in the Book of Commandments as two chapters: verses 1 through 73 were chapter 44; verses 74 through 93, though not in that order, comprised chapter 47. ( Church History and Modern Revelation , 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1:168.)
Fundamental Duties of Church Leaders
As the Saints began to gather at Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831, they were entering a large community of Saints on the frontier—the unsettled land in Ohio known then as the Western Reserve. Many settlers had moved to that area from New England for life on the Western frontier, which was often marked by lawlessness and moral laxity. The Lord here established a basic framework of laws to govern his church and to sanctify his people (D&C 41:3–4; 88:34).
D&C 42:4–9 A mission call for all the elders.
D&C 42:11 The necessity of public sustaining and ordinations.
D&C 42:12–13 Teaching from the scriptures, by precept and example.
D&C 42:14 Teaching with the Spirit (see also D&C 50:21–22).
The Ten Commandments
D&C 42:18–29 The laws revealed here are similar to the Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus 20:2–17. Joseph Fielding Smith emphasized that the Ten Commandments are part of the laws of God and that they are as binding today as they were in the days of Moses.
D&C 100:16 Later, the Lord revealed his intention to “raise up… a pure people.”
Scriptures and Revelation
D&C 42:56–60 Scriptures govern the Church and are to be proclaimed to the world.
D&C 42:61–62 Revelations are promised to those who ask and are worthy.
D&C 42:63–64 The Saints are to flee to the west to avoid coming dangers. “That which is coming on the earth” included a devastating and bloody Civil War which would take the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men and leave the country reeling in sorrow. The Lord moved the Saints out of the way before that great calamity struck.
D&C 42:65–69 The Saints are blessed to know the mysteries and covenants.
Marriage Is Ordained of God
D&C 42:74–77 The obligations of married partners are to be faithful and pure in their lives. Celibacy, living together out of wedlock, homosexuality, adultery, abortion, and birth control are but a few of the many methods employed by Satan to pervert men’s minds and prevent the creation and continuance and purposes of this holy union.
Dealing with Transgressors
D&C 42:79, 84–87 Civil courts vs. Church courts.
D&C 42:80–83 Conduct of Church disciplinary councils.
Receiving Revelation for the Church (D&C 43)
This revelation was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith in February 1831 at Kirtland, Ohio ( History of the Church , 1:154–156). At the time, certain individuals were claiming to receive revelation, which caused great concern to the Prophet and some of the members. The best known example was a woman named Hubble who came to Kirtland, claiming to be a prophetess.
D&C 43:1–7 Revelation comes only through proper channels. A lso, after the Prophet’s death another will be appointed in his stead to perform the same role as revelator.
D&C 43:15–16 The promise of a heavenly endowment. This has reference to the coming temple endowment under which they will receive marvelous promises and powers through their initiatory ordinances.
The Fourth General Conference ( D&C 44)
Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl said: “In the latter part of February, 1831, the Lord directed that the missionaries who had gone to the various parts of the Country be summoned to Kirtland to meet in a general conference.. The Conference referred to in this revelation convened at Kirtland, June 3, 1831. It was the Fourth General conference of the Church, and the first gathering of its kind in Kirtland.” ( Doctrine and Covenants Commentary , rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 249).
D&C 44:1–2 A call for a conference in Kirtland.
D&C 44:3–6 Organizing a growing Church.
Official Church Records
D&C 21:1 Very early in the Church’s history—April 6, 1830, the day the Church was organized—the Lord said: “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.”
D&C 47:1–4 John Whitmer is here called to that work—to “write and keep a regular history, and assist you, my servant Joseph, in transcribing all things which shall be given you, until he is called to further duties.
D&C 69:3, 7–8 The historian should record all important things about the Church.
Recording Personal Spiritual Blessings (D&C 46)
The Church is not alone in its responsibility to record significant events in its history. We are commanded to also do this with regard to our personal lives and histories.
D&C 46:32 The Lord is disturbed when He grants unto us a blessing and we receive it, and then quickly forget it. We should write them down and remember them.
D&C 59:21 The Lord is not offended when we enjoy our blessings. But He is offended when we fail to acknowledge His hand in the receipt of them.
High Priests and Many Missionaries (D&C 52)
The month of June 1831 opened with a significant and spiritual conference—the first one in Kirtland, wherein the first high priests among the general membership were ordained and 34 elders received mission calls. D&C 52 was received the day after the conference closed.
D&C 52:3-5 The Lord instructs Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to go to Missouri, where he will reveal the place of inheritance for the Saints in Zion.
D&C 52:7-8 Lyman Wight and John Corrill are also commanded to depart speedily, and John Murdock and Hyrum Smith are to travel there by way of Detroit (vv. 7–8).
D&C 52:9–10 General instructions for traveling missionaries.
D&C 52:14–19 A pattern for discerning the spirits of those they meet.
A Revelation to Sidney Gilbert (D&C 53)
In 1817, Newel K. Whitney met Sidney Gilbert in Kirtland, Ohio and “recognizing his business qualifications, and feeling a friendly interest in him, took him into his store as a clerk and gave him some knowledge of bookkeeping. Several years later the firm of Gilbert and Whitney was organized in Kirtland and in this business these two men were prospering…. Both… became very active members of the Church.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:160–161).
In June 1831, Algernon Sidney Gilbert asked the Prophet Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord as to what his calling and appointment should be in the Church. He wished to serve. The result of that inquiry was D&C 53.
D&C 53:4 Sidney Gilbert is called to be an agent of the bishop, to assist the bishop with business affairs. This would be similar to what a ward or stake financial clerk does today.
Attitude and Obedience
The Church had received the “Law of the Church” in D&C 42. They had struggled somewhat with its principles—particularly obedience to the authorities of the Church and living the law of consecration. Thus, over the next two or three months, from June to August 1831, the Lord sent forth a number of revelations about how latter-day Saints should conduct their lives.
The Importance of Attitude ( D&C 54–59)
D&C 52:15–16 Pray and speak with a contrite spirit, and with meek and edifying language.
D&C 52:40 Remember the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
D&C 53:2 Do not permit worldly concerns to thwart your gospel living.
D&C 54:10 Be “patient in tribulation ” until the Lord comes again.
D&C 55:1 Have an “eye single to the glory of God.”
D&C 55:3 Be contrite.
D&C 56:16 The rich must avoid selfishness.
D&C 56:17–18 The poor must also avoid selfishness and laziness.
D&C 58:24–29 Use your agency to do good without waiting to be commanded.
D&C 59:16–21 Be thankful for your blessings and use them wisely.
The Importance of Obedience
The same revelations which speak of the need for a proper attitude also speak of our need to be obedient. The early Saints were sometimes disobedient—as we are—and needed reminding of the importance of doing the will of the Lord, and not just speaking of it.
D&C 54:1–6 If we do not keep our covenants, they become void and of none effect.
D&C 56:1–3 We must be obedient to obtain salvation.
D&C 56:4–10 When we fail to do our duty, the Lord releases us and calls another.
D&C 58:42–43 When we repent, the Lord forgives and forgets our sins.
D&C 59:9–14 We must keep the Sabbath Day holy.
A Revelation to William W. Phelps (D&C 55)
Richard H. Cracroft and Neal E. Lambert said: “Well educated, [William W.] Phelps was an aspirant for the office of lieutenant governor of New York at the time he first learned of Mormonism through reading the Book of Mormon and talking with Sidney Rigdon. He visited Kirtland in 1831, was baptized, and became active in editorial work…. One of the Prophet’s scribes, he assisted in preparing the first hymnal” ( A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979]). He was also an accomplished poet and musician, writing the words and arranging the music for a hymn sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple—“The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning”—which has been sung at every temple dedication since then.
William W. Phelps was not yet a member of the Church when he received this revelation—a call to help in preparing books for children in the Church. This is the earliest revelation to specifically encourage education and schools in the Church.
D&C 55:1–3 William W. Phelps was called and chosen of the Lord.
D&C 55:4–6 Phelps was called to print for the Church, both in Kirtland and Missouri.
Revelation to William E. McLellin (D&C 66)
William E. McLellin first received the gospel from missionaries on their way to Missouri just a few months before section 66 was given in October 1831. McLellin accepted the Gospel with faith but he also had many weaknesses. He was eventually chosen as one of the original Twelve Apostles of this dispensation and was ordained to that office on February 15, 1835. While traveling with that quorum on a mission, he wrote a letter of criticism to the First Presidency and was suspended from fellowship. After confession and repentance he was restored to fellowship and served as the clerk for the Twelve. Then, on Friday, May 11, 1838, he came before a bishop’s court in Far West, Missouri, where he said he had no confidence in the presidency of the Church, and as a result he had quit praying and keeping the commandments of the Lord, and had indulged himself in his sinful lusts. He was excommunicated from the Church for unbelief and apostasy. ( Millennial Star, Vol. 26 , 807; Latter-day Saints’ Biographical Encyclopedia , 1:83).
D&C 66:1–2 The “new and everlasting covenant” is the gospel of Jesus Christ (see also D&C 132:4–7).
D&C 66:3–13 He was pronounced “clean, but not all ”—something that could be said about all of us.
The Book of Commandments
The Lord’s Preface and Appendix to the Commandments (D&C 1, 133)
On 1 November 1831, just a few days after section 66 had been received, a special conference convened to consider publishing the revelations given over a nine year period up to that time. The compilation was to be entitled the Book of Commandments. During those twelve days of meetings, the Prophet received six revelations: D&C 1, 67–70, and 133.
In D&C 1, the Lord revealed his preface for his book of commandments. This was placed at the first of the book, where prefaces belong. We discussed this revelation in detail in Lesson 1.
D&C 133 was received at the close of the conference and two days after the Preface (D&C 1).
It is called “The Appendix” because it was received after the revelation approving the selection of revelations to be published (D&C 67), and has occupied a position near the end of the D&C in all of its editions, though that placement is out of its chronological order. ( Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:251–256, 263).
A Dispute over the Language of the Revelations (D&C 67)
At this point in the conference, Joseph Smith asked the brethren if they were willing to place their names upon a witness to the world that these revelations and commandments were of God. Some brethren were hesitant, feeling that the language of the commandments was inadequate and needed to be re-worded. They probably thought that they were critiquing the language of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was admittedly not a master of language at that point in his life. But they were actually criticizing the Lord, whose words they were.
D&C 67:6–9 In response, the Lord revealed a challenge to these critics.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “After the foregoing was received, William E. M’Lellin, as the wisest man, in his own estimation, having more learning than sense, endeavored to write a commandment like unto one of the least of the Lord’s, but failed; it was an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord. The Elders and all present that witnessed this vain attempt of a man to imitate the language of Jesus Christ, renewed their faith in the fulness of the Gospel, and in the truth of the commandments and revelations which the Lord had given to the Church through my instrumentality; and the Elders signified a willingness to bear testimony of their truth to all the world.” ( History of the Church , 1:226).
The Testimony of the Witnesses to the Book of the Lord’s Commandments appears at the beginning of our Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord Himself also bore witness of the truth of the revelations (D&C 67:4).
D&C 67:1–4 Sometimes fear prevents faith and, therefore, revelation. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time…” ( Lectures on Faith as published in the Messenger and Advocate , (May 1835), Lecture Sixth, 126).
D&C 67:10–14 How men can see God while still in their mortal flesh.
The Mind and Will of the Lord (D&C 68)
As the conference closed, a group of elders—Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson and William E. M’Lellin—came to the Prophet and sought the will of the Lord concerning themselves, and their ministry. This revelation was the result of the Prophet’s inquiry for them.
D&C 68:1 Orson Hyde will proclaim the gospel among many lands and peoples. “The prophecy in this verse was literally fulfilled. Orson Hyde proclaimed the gospel ‘from people to people, from land to land.’ In 1832, he and Samuel H. Smith traveled in the States of New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island —two thousand miles—on foot. In 1835 he was ordained an Apostle, and in 1837 he went on a mission to England. In 1840 he was sent on a mission to Jerusalem. He crossed the Ocean, traveled through England and Germany, visited Constantinople, Cairo, and Alexandria, and, finally, reached the Holy City. On October 24th, 1841, he went up on the Mount of Olives and offered a prayer, dedicating Palestine for the gathering of the Jews.” (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary , 409).
D&C 68:2–4 The Lord defines what is “scripture” or the word of the Lord.
D&C 68:13 The principle of continuous revelation.
D&C 68:14–24 The qualifications of a presiding bishop. S ome of these apply to local ward bishops as well, but they are intended specifically for the presiding bishop of the whole Church.
D&C 68:25–28 The responsibility of parents to teach and baptize their children.
D&C 68:29 A commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy.
D&C 68:30–32 The need to overcome idleness and greediness.
D&C 68:33 A commandment to pray. Ezra Taft Benson said: “We must constantly be watchful as well as prayerful to ensure that our thoughts, words, and deeds stay in the “spiritual safe zone.” Just as the Savior promised protection to the Nephites, his promise is likewise conveyed to its today through the scriptures and living prophets who testify that if we are diligently watchful and prayerful, we “will be given the strength to shun any temptation.” ( The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 435).
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“Can we make our homes more beautiful? Yes, through addressing ourselves as families to the Source of all true beauty. Can we strengthen society and make it a better place in which to live? Yes, by strengthening the virtue of our family life through kneeling together and supplicating the Almighty in the name of His Beloved Son.
“This practice, a return to family worship spreading across the and over the earth, would in a generation largely lift the blight that is destroying us. It would restore integrity, mutual respect, and a spirit of thankfulness in the hearts of people.” (“The Blessings of Family Prayer,” Ensign, February 1991, 2–5).