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There are three sections of the Doctrine and Covenants associated with the Church’s organization. All were given at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr., in Fayette , New York .
- D&C 20 April 1830 The Constitution of the Church
- D&C 21 April 6, 1830 Given at organizational mtg
- D&C 22 April 1830 Given shortly thereafter
D&C 20 and 22 were accepted by the members of the Church at the time as the “Articles and Covenants of the Church.” This made them the first officially canonized scriptures in the Church.
The Constitution of the Church
D&C 20 was given by revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, but the revelation was not given all at once. Portions of it were received and written sometime in 1829, and it was not completed until after April 6, 1830. D&C 20 was first presented to the Church membership for a sustaining vote on June 9, 1830 at the first conference of the Church in Fayette , New York . It is known as the “Revelation on Church Organization and Government” ( History of the Church , 1:64–70) and served as a kind of constitution for the restored Church. Its contents can be broken down into discreet topical sections as follows.
Summarizing the Restoration
The first twelve verses of this revelation teach us much about the Church of Christ and its establishment in the latter days, the authority under which this was done, and the purpose of the Book of Mormon in proving the veracity of the restoration.
The name of the Church . This revelation begins by announcing “the rise of the Church of Christ in these last days” (v. 1; emphasis added). The name of the new church as stated in this revelation was “The Church of Christ,” but it was later changed to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4–5).
Boyd K. Packer said: “Others refer to us as Mormons. I do not mind if they use that title. However, sometimes we are prone ourselves to say ‘Church.’ I do not think it best for us to do so … Every prayer we offer is in His name. Every ordinance performed is in His name. Every baptism, confirmation, blessing, ordination, every sermon, every testimony is concluded with the invocation of His sacred name. It is in His name that we heal the sick and perform other miracles of which we do not, cannot, speak. In the sacrament we take upon ourselves the name of Christ. We covenant to remember Him and keep His commandments. He is present in all that we believe.” (“The Peaceable Followers of Christ,” Ensign , April 1998, 64).
The Savior’s birth date. D&C 20 declares that it had been 1,830 years “since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh” and stipulates that the Church was to be organized on April 6 th (v. 1).
The significance of April 6th: We might wonder why the Lord specified this specific date for the restoration of the Church. The reason lies particularly in its significance in the life of the Savior, but other important and symbolic events have also occurred on this date.
- Christ: The date He was born, and the date on which He was resurrected.
- Moses: The date on which the children of Israel were set free from Egypt .
- Elijah: The date on which Elijah restored sealing keys at Kirtland, Ohio.
There is, in fact, astounding scientific evidence of the fact that these three days in history were astrologically similar — with the positions of the sun, moon, and stars precisely the same (John Pratt, “Dating the First Easter: Restoration of Priesthood Keys on April 3, 1836, Part 1,” Ensign , June 1985, 59–68). This is surely not a coincidence since the Lord does all things perfectly and teaches us through the symbolism of such events.
- United States : April 6 th is also the date on which the Constitution was ratified and on which George Washington became the nation’s first President.
Like all other churches, the Church had to be “regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country” (v. 1). Under the laws of the state of New York at the time, six individuals had to act as charter members for the organizing process. The six who fulfilled this requirement were Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, Samuel H. Smith, and Peter Whitmer Jr.. But these six were not the only people present. There were more than 30 men, women and children in attendance.
The Church was established “by the will and commandments of God … Which commandments were given to … Joseph Smith … and Oliver Cowdery” (vv. 1–3).
By authority of the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood . “Joseph Smith … was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church; And … Oliver Cowdery . . . was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church” (vv. 2–3).
The weakness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is remarkable that this criticism of the prophet’s weakness should be included in the Church’s founding document. But the Lord wants us to realize that despite the fact that “after it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world” (v. 5). Yet, our merciful God forgave him, and “after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel … and gave unto him commandments which inspired him” (vv. 6–7).
The power by which the Book of Mormon was translated. Though by himself he was weak (like the rest of us), the Lord gave Joseph Smith “power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon” (v. 8). These “means” were the Urim and Thummim and the spiritual gift of translation by which he achieved his miraculous work.
The contents of the Book of Mormon. It “contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also” (v. 9). Its contents were “given by inspiration” to the prophets whose writings are found within its pages (v. 10). It was subsequently (in our day) “confirmed to others by the ministering of angels” and “declared unto the world” by those who thus received them (v. 10).
What the Book of Mormon proves. The very existence of this sacred record proves to the world “that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old; Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever” (vv. 11–12).
The Plan of Salvation and the Atonement
T he Lord says that “by these things” (the restoration, the Church, and the Book of Mormon) “we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them; And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness” (vv. 17–18).
Under the plan of salvation, God “gave unto [His children] commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship” (v. 19). But through “the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man” (v. 20). Therefore, in order to redeem them from this fallen state, “the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him” (v. 21).
In order to fulfill His mission, and out of pure charity for each of us, Christ “suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them” (v. 22), “was crucified, died, and rose again the third day” (v. 23), and “ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father” (v. 24). Thus becoming the Savior, He has declared that “as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved” (v. 25).
Justification and sanctification (D&C 20:30–31). These verses distinguish between the principles of justification and sanctification , both of which came “through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and are “ just and true ” (emphasis added). To properly understand this teaching we must define what each of these terms mean.
Justification means “to be declared righteous,” and also “to be put back into the right relationship with a person.” Therefore, in a spiritual sense, it means “being reconciled to God the Father.” Bruce R. McConkie said: “Reconciliation is the process of ransoming man from his state of sin and spiritual darkness and of restoring him to a state of harmony and unity with Deity. . . . Man, who was once carnal and evil, who lived after the manner of the flesh, becomes a new creature of the Holy Ghost; he is born again; and, even as a little child, he is alive in Christ.” ( Doctrinal New Testament Commentary , 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966–73], 2:422–423).
Justification can come only through the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. It does not come by faith alone nor by obedience or works. It comes solely through the atonement of Christ, which, after we have done all we can do, declares us “perfect” enough to return to our Father in Heaven. Without such justification, none of us would be returning there.
Sanctification is the actual process of cleansing, which, when it has been done, results in justification. And while sanctification is only possible because of the atonement of Christ, sanctification is achieved through the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost. And since righteousness is a requirement for the presence of the Spirit, sanctification comes only to “those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength” (v. 31).
Bruce R. McConkie said: “To be sanctified is to become clean, pure, and spotless; to be free from the blood and sins of the world; to become a new creature of the Holy Ghost, one whose body has been renewed by the rebirth of the Spirit. Sanctification is a state of saintliness, a state attained only by conformity to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. The plan of salvation is the system and means provided whereby men may sanctify their souls and thereby become worthy of a celestial inheritance” ( Mormon Doctrine , 675–676).
Grace is charity — the pure love of Christ which caused Him to so graciously intervene on our behalf. By ourselves, we do not and cannot qualify for exaltation in the presence of our perfect Father in Heaven. We need a friend, a mediator, who can pay the price of our weaknesses and sins to satisfy the demands of justice, and then intervene on our behalf with the Father to permit us entrance into the celestial kingdom. This He willingly did in obedience to the Father’s wishes and because He loves us and wants us to be with Him. That is the grace of Christ.
Bruce R. McConkie said: “Does salvation come, then, by works? No, not by the works of the law of Moses, and for that matter, not even by the more perfect works of the gospel itself. Salvation comes through Christ’s atonement, through the ransom he paid, the propitiation he made; without this no good works on the part of men could redeem them from temporal death, which redemption is resurrection, or redeem them from spiritual death, which redemption is eternal life.” ( Doctrinal New Testament Commentary , 2:231).
Just means sufficient — in this case sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice. The principles of justification and sanctification through the grace of Christ are therefore just.
True is a testimony of the truth of the principles here taught. The Lord is verifying their correctness and sufficiency to save us all.
Fundamental Ordinances OF THE Church
Instructions Concerning Baptism
Qualifications for baptism (D&C 20:37). E very member of the Church in those days (including the Prophet Joseph Smith) was a convert to the Church. All had need of baptism, and needed to understand the qualifications for receiving the ordinance and also the covenants they would be making in the process. The Lord lists those qualifications in this revelation.
- Humble themselves before God.
- Have a desire to be baptized.
- Come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits.
- Witness before the Church that they have truly repented of all their sins.
- Be willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ.
- Have a determination to serve him to the end.
- Manifest by their works (behavior) that they have received of the Spirit of Christ.
The ordinance of baptism (D&C 20:72–74) must be performed by someone “who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize” (v. 73). The proper mode of baptism is to “go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism” and offer a precise covenant prayer (v. 73). When this has been said, the officiator is required to “immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water” (v. 74).
The duties of members after baptism are also listed (D&C 20:68–69. Specifically, verse 69 stipulates that newly baptized members, before confirmation, should:
- “Manifest before the church, and … the elders … a godly alk and conversation.”
- Demonstrate that they are worthy of confirmation.
- Demonstrate that they have shown “works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures —walking in holiness before the Lord.”
This is not often the case in our present day, when newly baptized members are often confirmed members of the Church immediately after baptism. The brethren have, in recent times, expressed concern about immediate confirmations of adult converts, since the scriptures are clear that newly-baptized members must show evidence of their faith before they are confirmed and the Gift of the Holy Ghost bestowed upon them.
Children are to be baptized at the age of accountability (D&C 20:71). The Lord later clarified that “the years of accountability” means “when eight years old” (D&C 68:25–27). And we know from the Book of Mormon that the same principle applies to those who are “without law” because they are incapable mentally or emotionally of knowing right from wrong. All of these are “alive in Christ” without baptism ( Moroni 8:22).
Other Essential Ordinances
The blessing of young children (D&C 20:70). T his ordinance is not just a tradition. The Lord requires it of “every member of the Church of Christ having children.” We are commanded to “bring them unto the elders before the church,” who are to “lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.” We normally do this shortly after their birth, but it can actually be done anytime that is deemed appropriate by the presiding officer and consistent with Church instructions.
The ordinance of the sacrament (D&C 20:75–77) is given because we need to renew our covenants regularly. We are told that it is “expedient that the Church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus” (v. 75). This sacred ordinance is to be administered by “the elder or priest” who shall “kneel with the Church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer” (v. 76). The precise words of this ordinance are then given by the Lord.
- D&C 20:77 The ordinance of blessing of the sacrament bread.
- D&C 20:79 The ordinance of blessing of the sacrament wine (water)
Managing Church Membership
Transgressors are to be dealt with as the scriptures direct ( D&C 20:80). Church leaders are to keep the Church pure by disciplining those who violate their covenants. More particulars are given on this matter in D&C 64 and D&C 102, and will be discussed in a later lesson. Such actions are taken “that God may be glorified — not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that … ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver” (D&C 64:12–13).
Church memberships are to be tracked carefully by those in authority (D&C 20:81–84) . In those early days, they were distributed by hand at church conferences (v. 82). This is quite primitive by the standards of today’s computer and Internet methods. Still, the principle remains the same—to keep the numbers and names of the members in such a way that they will not be forgotten or lost (Mosiah 6:1; Moroni 6:4).
Church clerks are also to keep track of those who “have been expelled from the church, so that their names may be blotted out of the general church record of names” (v. 83). And if any members moved from one area to another, they took with them “a letter certifying that they are regular members and in good standing” (v. 84)—an early version of the membership records that are transferred today from one Church unit to another whenever a member moves.
The Church is Organized
D&C 21 was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, on the occasion of the organization of the Church — on Tuesday, April 6, 1830 … The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Whilst the Book of Mormon was in the hands of the printer, we continued to bear testimony and give information, as far as we had opportunity; and also made known to our brethren that we had received commandment to organize the Church; and accordingly we met together that purpose, at the house of Mr. Peter Whitmer, Sen.” ( History of the Church , 1:74).
Six men, who had previously been baptized, participated in the official incorporation of the Church as required by New York law. By unanimous vote all those persons present on this occasion (estimated to be at least 30) sustained the proposal to organize the Church according to the commandment of God (Section 20). They also voted to accept and sustain Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery as the presiding officers of the Church.
By the laying on of hands, Joseph Smith then ordained Oliver Cowdery an elder of the Church, followed by Oliver similarly ordaining Joseph. At that point, the Church was barely ninety days old. There were no wards or stakes, no seventies, high priests, or bishops. There were no quorums. There was not as yet a First Presidency, nor general authorities. The only executive or presiding officers were the First and Second Elders of the Church — Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
The sacrament was then administered and passed among the members. Joseph and Oliver then laid hands upon the participants individually “for the bestowal of the Holy Ghost and for the confirmation of each as a member of the Church” (D&C 21:Heading).
At the conclusion of these activities, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very great degree, some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord, and rejoiced exceedingly. Whilst yet together, I received the following commandment [D&C 21]” ( History of the Church , 1:74–78).
T he Lord commands again, this time concerning the proceedings of the meeting itself, that “there shall be a record kept among you” (v. 1), thus emphasizing the public nature of the Church’s meetings and ordinations. In the record of this first meeting, they were to note that Joseph Smith was sustained as “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, [and] an elder of the church” (v. 1). This pattern has been repeated for the prophets and apostles at every Church conference since that day.
The Church of the living Christ (D&C 21:2–3). The Lord testified to the people that Joseph Smith was “inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation [of the Church], and to build it up unto the most holy faith” (v. 2). This is the Lord’s Church — the Church of the Living Christ — and not a man-made institution. And it all began “in the year of your Lord eighteen hundred and thirty, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April” (v. 3).
The Prophet’s words will guide the cause of Zion (D&C 21:4–9). Members of the Church are commanded to “give heed unto all [the Prophet’s] words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (vv. 4–5). If we will do this, “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” (v. 6).
Harold B. Lee said: “We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord … Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘in all patience and faith.’ There will be some things that take patience and faith. 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 …’ Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over his church. He knows whom he wants to preside over this church, and he will make no mistake.” (in Conference Report, October 1970, 152–53; Improvement Era, December 1970, 126–127).
The Lord commanded that Joseph Smith should be ordained to his position as the Lord’s prophet “by you, Oliver Cowdery mine apostle, this being an ordinance unto you” ( D&C 21: 10–11). Thus was established another pattern that has persisted in the Church ever since that first conference on April 6, 1830 — namely, that the apostles ordain the prophets. And after that ordinance, those who have ordained him “are an elder under his hand, he being the first unto you” (v. 11). Oliver’s calling is to be “an elder unto this church of Christ , bearing my name — And the first preacher of this church unto the church, and before the world, yea, before the Gentiles; yea, and … to the Jews” (v. 12). But Joseph was to be sustained as the head of the Church.
Authoritative Baptism is Required
D&C 22 was given in April 1830, a few days after the organization of the Church, in response to some who had been previously baptized in other churches and who didn’t think re-baptism was required ( History of the Church , 1:79–80).
Baptism is a “new and everlasting” covenant that was established for God’s children from the very beginning of the earth (D&C 22:1). The ordinance replaced all old forms that resembled it, which the Lord had “caused to be done away in this thing” (v. 1). Baptism was not new. It had been required “from the beginning” of the earth, but in this final dispensation it constituted “a new and an everlasting covenant” unto the Church (v. 1).
Baptism must be done by proper authority (D&C 22:2–4). “Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works” (v. 2). Why were their previous baptisms “dead” to the Lord? Because they were not done by proper and necessary authority—the very power that the apostate churches reject as unnecessary. “For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old,” said the Lord (v. 3). They were therefore commanded to “enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God” (v. 4).
Additional Doctrinal Instructions
The Law of Common Consent
D&C 26 was one of three revelations the Prophet received shortly after his return to Harmony, Pennsylvania, from Colesville, New York, in July 1830. It was given to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and John Whitmer ( History of the Church, 1:104). John Whitmer was at the time living with Joseph and Emma and assisting in collating and arranging the revelations that had been given to that point. They had temporarily returned to the Prophet’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to escape intense persecution in New York, particularly at Collesville.
While thus unable to travel much, the Lord commanded them to “let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures, and to preaching, and to confirming the Church at Colesville, and to performing your labors on the land, such as is required” ( D&C 26:1). Later, they would be required to “go to the west [ Fayette , New York ] to hold the next conference; and then it shall be made known what you shall do.”
All things in the Church must be public (not secret) and subject to common consent (D&C 26:2 ). This requirement would prevent deviation from the doctrines and principles of the gospel. But this does not mean that the Church is a democracy. We do not “vote” when we sustain an action. By raising our right hands, we are, in fact, making a covenant to support those who have been appointed. We may choose not to sustain — that is our prerogative and our agency — but we are not electing Church officers by so doing.
The Emblems of the Sacrament
D&C 27 was received by the Prophet in August and September of 1830 at Harmony, Pennsylvania . He said: “Early in the month of August Newel Knight and his wife paid us a visit at my place in Harmony, Pennsylvania; and as neither his wife nor mine had been as yet confirmed, it was proposed that we should confirm them, and partake together of the Sacrament, before he and his wife should leave us. In order to prepare for this I set out to procure some wine for the occasion, but had gone only a short distance when I was met by a heavenly messenger, and received the following revelation [D&C 27]” ( History of the Church, 1:106–108).
We have become accustomed to the use of bread and water for the sacrament emblems, and we may think that they are the only appropriate tokens we may use. But the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory” (v. 2). The tokens are not the point; the things for which they stand are the point. Because the emblems of the sacrament are symbolic rather than mystically connected to the physical body and blood of the Lord, any food or liquid may, with permission of priesthood leaders, be used as the emblems by which we remember him.
Not fully understanding this, many Christians believe in transubstantiation — that the wafer they eat in remembrance of Christ is literally the body of Christ. Ordinances are symbolic and are intended to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. In baptism, in the sacrament, in the temple, and in every other ordinance, we are to focus on the mighty realities for which the symbols stand, not on the symbols themselves. In the case of the sacrament, we partake of the emblems in remembrance of Christ’s “body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins” (v. 2). Those are the mighty and saving principles of the sacrament.
In D&C 27, the Lord commands “that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies; Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made anew among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth” (vv. 3–4). This should not be interpreted to mean that we can never use wine for the sacrament. Rather, it says we are not to purchase wine from our enemies and are to use only “new wine of our own make,” meaning essentially grape juice.
Ancient Prophets Who Visited Joseph Smith
While speaking of those with whom He will “drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth,” the Lord mentions a number of ancient prophets whom he had sent by this time instruct Joseph Smith (D&C 27:5–14) and also those he would send in the near future.
Those who had already been sent included Moroni , who brought the Book of Mormon and also “the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim” (v. 5). Also, “John [the Baptist] the son of Zacharias (v. 7) … whom the Lord had sent to Joseph and Oliver to “ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received … even as Aaron” (v. 8). Also “Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry … the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel … for the fullness of times, in the which I will gather together in gone all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (vv. 12–13).
Those who would yet come included “Elias [Noah], to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days” (v. 6). Also “Elijah, unto whom I have committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse” (v. 9). Also “Joseph and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, your fathers, by whom the promises remain” (v. 10). And also “Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days” (v. 11).
The list of heavenly visitors to the Prophet Joseph Smith goes well beyond this short list. During his lifetime he was visited by virtually every major Biblical and Book of Mormon prophet, and many others, who instructed him in his great calling. The following is a list of 59 known visitors that are documented in Church scripture and historical documents.*
1. God the Father
2. Jesus Christ
5. John the Baptist
6–8. Peter, James and John
9. Adam (Michael)
10. Noah (Gabriel)
14. Joseph, son of Jacob
19–27. Twelve Jewish Apostles, besides Peter, James, John
28–39. Twelve Nephite Apostles, including 3 Nephites
45. Jared (Bible)
49. Zelph the Lamanite
50. Alvin Smith (deceased brother)
55-58. Unnamed Angels
59. Satan, as an angel of light (and many of his associates)
* (All documented in Journal of Discourses and/or History of the Church)
The Prophet Joseph listed many of these prophets in his rejoicing concerning the cause of Zion in the latter days found in D&C 128:18–20, including the following observation concerning the necessity of these visits, “it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fullness of times … that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time” (D&C 128:18).
Putting on the Whole Armor of God
We live in a seriously troubled time, wherein the Lord commands us to “lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins [meaning prepare yourself], and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day” (v. 15). What kind of preparation is required for times like these? The Lord lists the following.
- Knowing the truth (v. 16)
- Living in righteousness (v. 16)
- Understanding the gospel of peace (v. 16)
- Faith, with which “ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (v. 17)
- Having hope for, and the assurance of, salvation (v. 18)
- Possessing the Holy Spirit as a guide (v. 18)
- Receiving all the words of Christ (scriptures and revelations) (v. 18)
- Unity — “being agreed as touching all things” (v. 18)
- Enduring all things in faith until He comes (v. 18)
And if we are thus prepared, He promises us that “ye shall be caught up, that where I am ye shall be also” (v. 18).
Learning to Follow the Prophet
A Troubling Letter from Oliver Cowdery
Joseph had returned to Harmony, Pennsylvania for awhile, but persecution was getting worse. In addition, during this period, and just months after the organization of the Church, Joseph received a letter from Oliver Cowdery which gave him both “sorrow and uneasiness.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “He wrote to inform me that he had discovered an error in one of the commandments — Book of Doctrine and Covenants: (D&C 20:37) ‘And truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto a remission of their sins.’ The above quotation, he said, was erroneous, and added: ‘I command you in the name of God to erase those words, that no priestcraft be amongst us!’ I immediately wrote to him in reply, in which I asked him by what authority he took upon him to command me to alter or erase, to add to or diminish from, a revelation or commandment from Almighty God” ( History of the Church, 1:105).
Eventually, Joseph could no longer depend on the protection of his father-in-law, Isaac Hale, against the rising threat of persecution; he therefore accepted the invitation of Peter Whitmer Sr. to come and live with him again in Fayette , New York , where they had resided during the completion of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the Church. Newel Knight took his wagon from Colesville to Harmony to move the family. They arrived at Fayette during the last week of August, 1830 “amidst the congratulations of our brethren and friends.” But all was not well.
Leaving Harmony was a day of great sorrow for Emma. This was the last time she would ever see her parents in this life, and they had to leave most of their earthly possessions behind. Emma was pregnant again — this time with twins — and she had to endure the three-day ride over hot, dusty, bumpy roads.
The Prophet arrived in Fayette only to find that the rebellion of Hiram Page, Oliver Cowdery, and others was still underway. He wrote, “I found the family in general of his [Oliver Cowdery’s] opinion concerning the words [he had disputed previously in his letter to Joseph], and it was not without both labor and perseverance that I could prevail with any of them to reason calmly on the subject. However, Christian Whitmer at length became convinced that the sentence was reasonable, and according to Scripture; and finally, with his assistance, I succeeded in bringing, not only the Whitmer family, but also Oliver Cowdery to acknowledge that they had been in error, and that the sentence in dispute was in accordance with the rest of the commandment.” ( History of the Church , 1:105).
Shortly thereafter, the Prophet learned about Hiram Page’s claims to receiving certain revelations by means of a seer stone. Newel Knight described the circumstances in his journal: [Hiram Page was] giving revelations concerning the government of the Church and other matters, which he claimed to have received through the medium of a stone he possessed … Even Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmer family had given heed to them … Joseph was perplexed and scarcely knew how to meet this new exigency. That night I occupied the same room that he did and the greater part of the night was spent in prayer and supplication. After much labor with these brethren they were convinced of their error, and confessed the same, renouncing [Page’s] revelations as not being of God.” (Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 39–40; also Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “To our great grief … we soon found that Satan had been lying in wait to deceive, and seeking whom he might devour. Brother Hiram Page had in his possession a certain stone, by which he had obtained certain ‘revelations’ concerning the upbuilding of Zion, the order of the Church, etc., all of which were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house, as laid down in the New Testament, as well as in our late revelations. As a conference meeting had been appointed for the 26th day of September, I thought it wisdom not to do much more than to converse with the brethren on the subject, until the conference should meet. Finding, however, that many especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery, were believing much in the things set forth by this stone, we thought best to inquire of the Lord concerning so important a matter; and before conference, we received the following [D&C 28].” ( History of the Church , 1:108–110).
The “Economy of Revelation”
D&C 28 was received and recorded in the midst of all the above-described confusion, and it was directed to Oliver Cowdery.
Reiterating what He had said in a prior revelation on the day the Church was organized (D&C 21:10–12), the Lord defined Oliver Cowdery’s role (D&C 28:1–7) as follows: “thou shalt be heard by the Church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given” (v. 1). But “no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses” (v. 2). Oliver is commanded to be “obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him” (v. 3).
The Lord said that Oliver, as an apostle, could “declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church. And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it. But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom” (vv. 4–5). This is an apt description of the role of apostles in the Church even to this day. They speak by revelation and wisdom, but they do not speak for the entire Church.
Oliver would struggle with this principle throughout his life, feeling himself equal to Joseph rather than subject to his direction. But he is explicitly commanded in this revelation not to “command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead” (vv. 4–5). Thus, only the prophet who sits at the head of the Church can receive revelation for the whole Church.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or anyone, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore, you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction, for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.” ( History of the Church , 1:338).
Oliver Cowdery was then called to preach to the Lamanites (D&C 28:8–9, 14–16), which meant to go west toward the wilderness beyond New York, through Ohio and on to Missouri, and take the gospel message to the descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples. This mission call would have eternal consequences for the Church, as will be seen in later lessons. ). He was promised that it would be “given thee from the time thou shalt go, until the time thou shalt return, what thou shalt do” (v. 15). But in general, he must “open thy mouth at all times, declaring my gospel with the sound of rejoicing” (v. 16).
Referring back to the false doctrine taught by Hiram Page, the Lord says, “it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. [But] Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites” (v. 9). The Church would later learn that it would be in Missouri , the area to which Oliver was now called to go.
They were to convene a conference at which Joseph would preside. And with regard to preaching at that conference, “what he saith to thee thou shalt tell” and nothing more (v. 10).Oliver was to “settle all these things [the false teachings of Hiram Page], according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites” (v. 14).
Oliver was to correct Hiram Page privately (D&C 28:11). This is consistent with the Lord’s later instruction to the Church that whenever we are offended we are to discuss the matter privately with the offender (D&C 42:88). It is generally contrary to the Lord’s will that we criticize any individual publicly because that seldom leads to anything but hard feelings. It is interesting that Oliver is the one called to do the correcting, because he had himself been deceived by Hiram Page in this matter. Perhaps in this manner, the Lord allowed Oliver to show his obedience and loyalty while helping his friend.
Being new to the Church, none of its members were experienced in such matters. The Lord was trying to teach them the correct order of things. With regard to Hiram Page, the Lord said: “these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the Church covenants. For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith” (vv. 12–13). This is how revelation is to be given to the Church— through proper authority, in a public way with common consent, and consistent with the teachings and covenants of the Church.
The Second Conference of the Church
The second conference of the Church was convened on 26 September 1830, at Fayette , New York . The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The subject of the stone previously mentioned was discussed, and after considerable investigation, Brother Page, as well as the whole Church who were present, renounced the said stone, and all things connected therewith, much to our mutual satisfaction and happiness.” ( History of the Church , 115).
The Spirit of the Lord was strongly felt at the conference and another important revelation was received, D&C 29 on the second coming of Christ, the pre-existence, the fall, and the atonement. And at the conclusion of the conference, the missionaries to the Lamanites, including Oliver Cowdery, were sent west to teach them the gospel (D&C 30–31).