The Doctrine and Covenants, if studied in proper context, is a study of the origins of the Church. But this study is not simply a review of history - it's more of an inspirational examination of each member's spiritual heritage.
Every member - whether seventh generation Latter-day Saint or recent convert - shares the same spiritual heritage, according to Elder Harold G. Hillam of the Presidency of the Seventy and general president of the Sunday School and his counselors, Elders F. Burton Howard and Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy. They spoke recently with the Church News about the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine course of study for 1997 - the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History.Elder Hillam said, "All members of the Church inherit the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. In reality, as they become part of the Church they also become part of the heritage of Abraham."
This spiritual heritage, Elder Pace pointed out, "isn't a matter of bloodlines." He quoted Paul, who, in writing to the newly baptized Saints at Ephesus, declared: " . . . Ye are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God." (Eph. 2:19.)
"We quote that all the time," Elder Pace said. "In reality, all
who are baptized into the ChurchT inherit the legacy of the Church. You can expand it beyond Church history. It becomes, as Elder Hillam mentioned, part of the heritage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through adoption into that line."
Elder Howard said that part of the reason for studying the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history is "to renew in us our birthright, or right as members of the Church, and the legacy that comes to us."
Such study and renewal is crucial, he pointed out. "Just as it is true that at the moment individuals are baptized into the Church and that legacy becomes theirs, there are those who have bloodlines going back to Nauvoo and Kirtland who lose that heritage - almost their birthright that comes from it - because of the way they are living their lives, or the way they're not living them. You can give this spiritual heritage up; it isn't a bloodline that you can lay claim on."
Elder Hillam added: "So many members of the Church all over the world really, as yet, do not understand the great heritage that we have in the Church, what a lot of members did as they accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, as they accepted Him as their Savior, and as they gained a testimony. They don't understand how much those people really paid to be members of the Church."
He referred to Truth Restored, a short history of the Church, which was written by President Gordon B. Hinckley, and Our Heritage, another brief history of the Church, that are being used in conjunction with the Doctrine and Covenants in this year's course of study. (See information about these publications and the class member study guide on page 14.)
"The introduction to Our Heritage quotes Joseph Smith: `The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.' " (History of the Church 3:30.)
The introduction states that every prophet who has succeeded Joseph Smith has added his personal witness of the divine mission of the Savior, and includes this citation: "As those who are called and ordained to bear witness of Jesus Christ to all the world, we testify that He was resurrected on that Easter morning nearly two thousand years ago, and that He lives today. He has a glorified, immortal body of flesh and bones. He is the Savior, the Light and Life of the world." (Easter Greetings from the First Presidency, Church News, April 15, 1995, p. 1.)
Elder Hillam quoted further from Our Heritage: " `Millions of faithful Saints have also had testimonies of the divinity of Jesus Christ. This knowledge has motivated them to make the sacrifices necessary to build The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the kingdom of God on the earth. The story of the establishment of the Church is one of faith, consecration, and joy. It is the story of living prophets who taught the truths of God to the modern world. It is the story of men and women from all walks of life who sought for the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and, upon finding it, were willing to pay the price of becoming the Savior's disciples. These stalwart Saints pressed on through sufferings and hardships, witnessing even in their darkest hours of the goodness of God and the joy of His love. They have left a legacy of faith, courage, obedience, and sacrifice.' "
Elder Hillam said that Truth Restored and Our Heritage will add to the study of the Doctrine and Covenants in such a way that all members "can now gain a personal feeling of the great heritage that we have."
Elder Howard added: "It's almost impossible to have a testimony in this Church unless you understand the context in which the foundation revelations were given. The Doctrine and Covenants is a formidable book. In a sense, it's a little like the Bible in that the doctrine isn't organized - it's spread throughout - and isn't all in chronological order. If members start to read it section by section, as most people do, they will not have the vision of what the book is all about. They can pick out individual revelations, and find that they're beautiful. But unless they understand the history and the context in which the sections were written, it will be very difficult for them to have a testimony of the Doctrine and Covenants."
For this reason, the adult gospel doctrine course of study for 1997 and the older Sunday School youth classes, which are also studying the Doctrine and Covenants, do not focus solely on Church doctrine or on just Church history. The aim is to help members realize "a common heritage as part of their own faith, to relive some of these great experiences. If they don't do that, they'll never take deep root in the gospel," Elder Howard said.
Elder Pace spoke of the importance of being able to incorporate Church history into the thoughts and practices of contemporary living. "No one talks of history as well as President Hinckley, who knows his history in depth and converts that history into a spiritual experience and then applies it to today's living. He takes history and brings it forward to what our challenges are. He ties in beautifully heritage and history to the gospel and scriptures."
Elder Hillam said he loves all the scriptures, but he particularly loves the Doctrine and Covenants. "I guess part of that love comes from an understanding of the historical background of it, knowing what the Prophet was going through when he received some of those revelations. It contains a record of some of the best times of the Church, when the Lord in His kindness gave revelations to the Church. We're the benefactors of that today."
He said that members, at the end of this year's course of study, should find that their testimonies have been strengthened.