Scripture study never ends -- interaction in Sunday School helps increase understanding

No matter how many times a person has read the Book of Mormon, he or she is never really finished reading it.

That's an opinion of Elder Harold G. Hillam, Sunday School general president, and his counselors, Elder F. Burton Howard and Elder Glenn L. Pace. Elder Hillam, who is a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Elder Howard and Elder Pace, members of the Seventy, recently spoke with the Church News about the Book of Mormon, which is the 1996 gospel doctrine course of study as well as the course of study for the older youth classes in Sunday School."Every member of the Church can learn even more about the gospel, and the Sunday School is just the place for that learning to take place," Elder Hillam said.

"It's important to know that the Sunday School is the Sunday teaching vehicle where the Saints come on a weekly basis to learn gospel principles. Adult members receive training in the Relief Society and priesthood quorums, but the official Sunday school is the Sunday School organization. We hope that all members will feel that the Sunday School is important and that their participation in it is important."

Elder Hillam added that reading the scriptures, at home or in personal study, is extremely important but it's also important to be part of a Sunday School class. "Sometimes, we get self-sufficient," he said. "We might think, `I've read the Book of Mormon a number of times. I can't possibly learn anything in that Sunday School class that I couldn't learn sitting at home.' I don't believe that's true. I think that the interaction and the different perspectives that come in a class setting will often provoke thoughts we've never had before and prompt us to re-evaluate our own understanding of the gospel. Sometimes we will realize it could have been deeper and it could have been more profound. Whatever it takes to have that happen, it is more likely to happen in Sunday School than if you're just reading the scriptures at home."

To illustrate the fact that knowledge and understanding can continue to increase, Elder Howard read from the Doctrine and Covenants: " `We, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, being in the Spirit on the sixteenth day of February . . .

1832T - By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God - Even those things which were from the beginning before the world was. . . .' " (D&C 76:11-13.)

Elder Howard said: "The point was that by the time of this revelation, 1832, Joseph Smith had been tutored by Moroni, had seen the Father and the Son, and had received several revelations. He was a gospel sophisticate. This illustrates that you never reach a point in the Church where your eyes can't be opened more or your understanding can't be enlarged."

Elder Pace referred to 1 Nephi, chapter 1. "Here we read that Lehi had seen what was going to happen in Jerusalem," he said. "He was just heartsick. He threw himself on the bed, and he prayed. As he was overcome by the Spirit he was carried away in a vision. He saw the heavens opened. He thought he saw God sitting on His throne surrounded by numberless concourses of angels. Then he saw one descending out of heaven whose luster was above that of the noonday sun, and there were 12 others that came down.

"Beginning with verse 11 we read, `And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.

" `And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.' (1 Ne. 1:11-12.)

"Now," Elder Pace said, "Lehi had already seen a vision of spectacular spiritual proportions. Then they gave him a book and told him to read it, and he did, and was filled with the Spirit. I think that tells us something about how important it is to read the scriptures."

Personal study of the scriptures is enhanced by Sunday School, Elder Hillam added, noting that the responsibility for having a successful class does not rest solely with the teacher, although he or she has a vital role. "In Section 43, verse 8, [of the Doctrine and Covenants] we read, `And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other. . . .'

"This lets us understand that it isn't necessarily just the teacher edifying and instructing, but that we have a responsibility to participate in class. I've heard Elder Richard G. Scott [of the Quorum of the Twelve], as he has taught missionaries specifically, say that the act of raising our hands and participating is an invitation for the Spirit to be with us. Participation in the class is important. We shouldn't come with the attitude of `Entertain me,' but we should come with an attitude of learning and participating, and becoming part of the class."

Elder Howard said: "The worst thing you can take to Sunday School is a closed mind. If you're willing and if you go there in a receptive frame of mind, wanting to understand the Book of Mormon better, you will always be able to do it. It isn't just the teacher's responsibility. A lot of us have the attitude that we approach Sunday School like we do television. We want to be entertained or we're not going to watch the show. But Church members can't do that. They've got to go to Sunday school with an attitude that they're going to participate. If the class isn't what it ought to be, then they're going to have to help make it what it ought to be."

The last time the Book of Mormon was the basis for the gospel doctrine course of study was 1992. In following years, the course of study consisted of the Doctrine and Covenants/Pearl of Great Price; the Old Testament and the New Testament. Elder Pace said there is validity for studying the Book of Mormon repeatedly.

"We can all think, `Where was I four years ago?' In my own case, I was a member of the Presiding Bishopric," he said. "Since then I've become a member of the Seventy. I've filled a two-and-a-half-year mission. I have lost my father and a grandson. Five of our children have been married. All of us, when we think back to where we were four years ago realize our perspective is so changed that there are now things that we may be able to understand, without question, better than we did then."

Members of the Sunday School presidency said they hope that during this year's course of study that teachers and students will focus more on the Spirit than on geography. "They should be sure they don't get lost in cities and towns, in trying to find out where Cumorah really is," Elder Pace said. "It's more important for teachers to strive to have the class feel the Spirit of the Book of Mormon while in class, and for the students to feel this as well in their private reading, as opposed to getting down exactly what date something was written and how that ties in to this plate or that plate.

"At times, some members in our adult curriculum get too much into some of the intellectual aspects of the scriptures. These intellectual aspects can be important; I don't mean to minimize them. But don't talk the Spirit out of the classroom by dealing only with the intellectual, historical or archaeological details. Teachers should make sure that, as part of what they teach, that the Spirit is felt in the classes. After all, it is the Spirit that converts.

"Individually and collectively, every verse of the Book of Mormon carries with it a testimony that what it is saying is true," Elder Pace explained. "Often, we get into the idea that we have to wait until we get to Moroni to pray, that we don't have a right to pray until we've read the whole book. Just as living every principle of the gospel carries with it its own testimony and its blessing for living the principle, so does every verse. I don't think there would be any unimportant weeks of study."

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