Just like that, in the church’s Sunday School curriculum, we’ve jumped from the Book of Mormon to the Doctrine and Covenants. I feel kind of overwhelmed in my preparation for the Doctrine and Covenants study in comparison to the Book of Mormon because I think it’s really helpful to understand scripture in context. The Book of Mormon kind of makes this easy to an extent. First of all, contextualizing the Book of Mormon is controversial. Faithful believers, place the Book of Mormon within an ancient context, the book containing two narratives, one beginning in Jerusalem at around 600BC and the other beginning during the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel. Either way, both stories quickly leap to the Americas where collaborating historical texts are non-existent. For those who aren’t faithful believers, believe Joseph Smith to be the author, putting its context in 1820’s northeastern America. Either way, the Book of Mormon production is the first step in kicking off the restoration story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.
While contextualizing the Book of Mormon may yield some useful fruit, I found the Book of Mormon imminently useful simply by reading it on its own terms. And I knew this going in. I’m much more familiar with the Book of Mormon than I am with the Doctrine and Covenants having taking seriously the church’s encouragement to prioritize it over other parts of our scriptural cannon.
The Doctrine and Covenants places greater contextual demands, steeped as it is directly within church history. It’s a set of direct revelations, written directly in God’s spoken voice as responses to questions or as directives to problems in the early days of church organization. These revelations don’t have directly connective bindings other than the historical narratives that are not directly written in its text and must be studied from other sources. While I do believe each section of this book can stand alone, a deeper study of the accompanying history is too tantalizing to pass up.
And as a member of this church, these founding revelations need to be taken seriously. They describe original intentions and motivations of the early church. A lot has transpired over the last two hundred years, but I think it’s important to understand first principles.
Section 1, on this note, is an interesting kick off to this, the first section in the scripture, it’s not the first recorded revelation. It acts as the book’s preface. The Saints Volume 1, provides a couple different reasons why in November 1, 1831, the church organized a conference to discuss the desire to publish these early revelations: 1) as a response to church critics who doubted Smith’s revelations and 2) as a way to offer them as convenient resources for church members. Originally, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and William McLellin were tasked with composing the preface. The results were unsatisfactory. Frustrated, they turned to Joseph Smith to ask God in prayer for insights, and from that prayer Joseph Smith dictated section 1 of the Doctrine Covenants while Sidney Rigdon recorded.
My own Very Crude Paraphrase
I recommend a careful reading of this remarkable revelation. Patrick Mason offers a good example of how to do this offering here his own rephrasing of this section in his own words and it provides useful insights. I think I’ll follow that example.
These revelations are not just for members of the church, though they are for them, but they are written for every person, no matter how remote (verses 1 & 2). Even the rebellious, those who refuse to hear and conform to God’s will, shall be pierced by it. Their secret acts shall be revealed to all. (verse 3). Christ’s disciples will be tools in God’s hands to prepare the world as a voice of warning (verse 4), nobody will be able to stop them (verse 5). Their authority comes from these revelations (verse 6) and what God has decreed will come to pass (verse 7).
Those people who preach God’s word not only do it with God’s authority, but with God’s power (verse 8, 9). The choices we make, the work we perform, will have consequences, for good or for bad (verse 10), so we need to listen (verse 11) and prepare while we still have time (verse 12), for things are likely to get rough (verse 13), and if we don’t give heed to God’s word, we risk isolation and disconnection. (verse 14).
For the most part, the world is in a tough spot (verse 15), too many of us are thinking only about our own needs and concerns (verse 16) and the result will be catastrophic (verse 17), so God called Joseph Smith among many others and provided them revelation and commandments (verse 17 and 18). God performs his work through the weakest of us (verse 19). Really, God wants to speak through all of us (verse 20). God wants faith to increase (verse 21). God wants to establish His covenant with us (verse 22). That we might teach the fulness of the gospel (verse 23).
God speaks to us either directly or through others, but in our language. God comes to us where we are (verse 24). And even God’s most devoted servant is weak (verse 25). But no matter how weak we may be, if we seek, we will be instructed (verse 26). God loves us so much that we’ll be chastened when we error (verse 27). In our humility, we are made strong (verse 28).
Joseph Smith kicked off this work by translating the Book of Mormon (verse 29), but that was only the beginning, the foundation of the church must be laid (verse 30). Christ’s church, which is true, a good and pure gospel meant to bless an imperfect and broken world. And of course, we all sin, we all suffer, both those within and without the church. We’re all in need of repentance. (verse 31-33). Again, this church is meant for everyone, God loves all of us (verse 34-35). God will be with us and is concerned with us and everyone in this world (verse 36).
This record is meant for all of us. Search these things, for they are “true and faithful (verse 37) and shall be fulfilled (verse 38 – 39).
- How can we live up to the call of this revelation to share these things to all people?
- How should these revelations affect us? How should we prepare? How should we hearken?
- What does it mean when is says the anger of the Lord is kindled?
- What does it mean that those who do not hearken are cut off?
- How do we walk in our own way? How can we do better to not do this?
- Which calamities have come upon the world since this revelation? How could have we prevented or endured them better if we would have more faithfully hearkened? What future calamities still await us?
- What examples beyond Joseph Smith do we have of the weak things breaking down the mighty on strong ones?
- What does it mean that every person should speak in the name of God?
- How can faith increase in the earth?
- God’s love is shown to us by making it known to us when we make mistakes, granting wisdom when we seek it, or being chastened when we sin. Can we think of examples of this?
- How did the translation of the Book of Mormon come by the mercy of God?
- What does it mean referring to this church as the “only true and living church”?
- If this gospel is meant for all, does it only include the LDS institutional church which is relatively tiny?