Members, friends May 'bask in word of Lord' in Sunday School class

Expressing the belief that no one's understanding of the scriptures is ever complete, the Sunday School general presidency is inviting Latter-day Saints and friends to "come to Sunday School, bask in the word of the Lord, feel the Spirit and gain strength and understanding for the day and week ahead."

Elder Merlin R. Lybbert of the Seventy and Sunday School general president, and his first counselor, Elder Clinton L. Cutler (his second counselor, Elder Ronald E. Poelman, was out of the country on assignment), discussed with the Church News the Gospel Doctrine 1993 course of study.This year, Gospel Doctrine classes throughout the Church will focus on the Doctrine and Covenants. The Pearl of Great Price and the historical settings of revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants also will be incorporated in the course of study.

"It doesn't matter at what level of learning or spirituality people come to class. If they honestly seek, they will find within those scriptures some advancement in their understanding and in their spirituality," Elder Lybbert said. "Most of us, because we're very busy, tend to put aside the thing that isn't demanding attention. If we take our Sunday School classes seriously, it will be a great incentive, a reminder to work our way through this beautiful volume during this coming year.

"If we're doing what the prophet has asked us to do, we should be reading the scriptures every day. I know a busy physician who said things weren't going as well in his life as he thought they ought to be. He sat down and analyzed his situation and said, `The thing that's missing in my life is the scriptures.' He made up his mind that he would read at least one verse of scripture every day, no matter how busy he was. It put a whole different tone in his life."

In commenting on this year's Gospel Doctrine course of study, Elder Cutler referred to a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson's April 1987 general conference address: " `The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone.'

"As President Benson said, the Book of Mormon will bring us closer to Christ; the Doctrine and Covenants will bring us closer to Christ's kingdom," explained Elder Cutler. "It contains the doctrine and ordinances of the kingdom, the latter-day restoration and the counsel given to the prophets by the Lord Himself. In this book, the Lord is speaking to us, giving instruction to His prophets on how the Church organization is set up."

Elder Lybbert said the purpose of the Doctrine and Covenants is pretty well defined in the first section, which serves as the preface. "Section 1 really is kind of an outline as to what the purpose of the gospel is to accomplish in this dispensation," he said. "We have 138 sections in today's Doctrine and Covenants. Some of them deal with multiple subject matters. While the gospel in its fullness is usually referred to as being in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants really contains the details of doctrines of the gospel and the covenants of the kingdom, of the priesthood and of the government of the Church.

"For the most part, much of it came as the saints encountered difficulties and questions concerning how to manage the kingdom. A revelation would then often be given as they sought instruction and as they needed it. Brigham Young was in one of the Eastern states when he received the news of Joseph's martyrdom. He thought to himself that the Prophet's death was doubly tragic because Joseph had taken the keys with him. Then, as he thought about it, he said to the brethren with him, `The keys have been left with us. We have the keys.'

"There were very few revelations given after the death of Joseph Smith. Most of the keys and instructions that were necessary to carry on the Church were left by the Prophet. They were all in place because of the revelations that had already been given."

Elder Cutler said the Lord provides constant direction for His Church. "The Church was organized in 1830, but the Doctrine and Covenants was not published until five years later, in 1835," he pointed out. "Some revelations were published earlier, but they weren't as extensive. [An earlier volume of revelations, A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church, was published in 1833, in Independence, Mo.T

"The key lesson is that current revelation comes constantly. It can come in conferences, in the prophet's spoken and printed messages. It is a vital necessity to have constant revelation from the Lord. The Doctrine and Covenants is simply a compilation of the revelations that were printed. Not all revelations have been published."

Of the importance of studying the Doctrine and Covenants, Elder Lybbert said: "It's the doctrine, the ordinances, the counsel given to the Church by the Lord, Himself, through some of His prophets. This is the Lord speaking in these latter days.

"Commandments and principles are reaffirmed for us today. We have the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. All these scriptures are a harmony of the doctrines that have come to us. But those given in latter days are established, honed and prepared for our day."

The Sunday School general presidency noted that a knowledge of the historical settings of the revelations is important. They called attention to the background information contained in the headings of each section of the Doctrine and Covenants. "By understanding the historical setting we understand more fully the principle that is intended to be taught," Elder Lybbert said. "The same is true with understanding the Bible. As you increase your knowledge of customs, laws and conditions that existed in those days, you are able to better understand the scriptural passages.

"Understanding the historical setting has a marvelous effect," he said. "One is that it maintains the purity of the doctrine. For example, if you know and understand the factual situation in which the Savior was baptized, it is difficult to pollute the doctrine of baptism by immersion. The same is true with a lot of other principles of the gospel. The factual situation assists in keeping the doctrine pure."

Elder Cutler noted that Elder Lybbert spoke of understanding the "historical setting," rather than focusing the year's course of study on in-depth history. "The purpose of Sunday School is not to study history," Elder Cutler said. "The teacher will make a mistake if he or she spends the class time talking about just the history. The information in the section headings is enough to help us understand why the revelations were given at that time, what precipitated them. Most of the class time should be spent on studying the scriptures themselves."

Helping members study and understand the scriptures is the Sunday School's major function, the presidency noted. "The text for the Sunday School is the scriptures," Elder Lybbert said. "The teacher has a manual, and class members have a study guide, but the text is the scriptures."

Elder Lybbert continued: "We don't read a volume of scripture through just once, or teach it just once and say, `I'm through.' The scriptures are ever unfolding. We gain greater and deeper understanding each time we read or study them. I don't know how many times I've read the Doctrine and Covenants. I've read, studied and searched this volume of scripture, and I still find enjoyment in picking it up and opening it to a section and reading it."

Elder Cutler said: "I think most people are searching for joy and peace. There is no other way to find joy and peace, except to draw closer to the Lord. And the only way we can draw closer to the Lord is to learn His words. We find His words in the scriptures."

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