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The Doctrine and Covenants - 'The constitution of the Church'

With the beginning of a new year, we have the opportunity anew to study the scriptures.

All the scriptures the Lord has revealed are complementary and supportive of the teachings of the others. Nephi said the Bible and Book of Mormon would "grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions. . . . (2 Ne. 3:12.)He recorded he had seen "other books" such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants to convince the children of Israel that the Bible or "the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true." (1 Ne. 13:39.)

Mormon taught that "this [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye believe that [the Bible]; and if ye believe that [the Bible] ye will believe this [the Book of Mormon] also; . . . (Morm. 7:9.)

The mutual relationship to all scripture is the unified testimony of Jesus Christ, His message, and His Church, the record of the teachings of the prophets who minister in His behalf, and the ordinances and covenants that ensure the blessings of God to His children. The power of this unified message and testimony is strengthened when it is "expounded" and used "in one," or together (see 3 Ne. 23:14.)

Each of the scriptural volumes has unique gospel contributions to make to a reader's understanding. Among the messages the scriptures provide, the Book of Mormon is foundational with its clear teachings of the great "plan of happiness," its teachings of the Fall, the atonement of Christ, and the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. The New Testament focuses on the mortal experiences and teachings of Jesus Christ. It also teaches of the Apostles and their ministry among men. The special significance of the Old Testament is the unfolding of the covenants of God to His people Israel and the declarations by the prophets concerning the destiny and ministry of this people. The Pearl of Great Price restores some historical and doctrinal truths, the earliest dispensations and their prophet leaders.

What is the unique contribution of the Doctrine and Covenants?

The Doctrine and Covenants is the crowning addition to all these other scriptural records. Students of the Doctrine and Covenants should have a good acquaintanceship with the other scriptural records, especially the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. This does not mandate that the student of the Doctrine and Covenants has mastered each of the others, for the truth of each of the standard works may be gained independent of the other.

Each volume of scripture is instructive individually as well, for it teaches the same truths from the same source. Each of those scriptures is complementary to Latter-day revelation. But the Doctrine and Covenants is our scripture. It is the Lord's voice to this Church today.

The focus for scripture study this curriculum year of 1997 is the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord's introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 1), which He describes as His "preface," provides the primary purpose for the Latter-day revelations.

First, the Doctrine and Covenants is the "voice of warning" to all people. (See D&C 1:1-7.)

Second, the Lord declares that gospel truths revealed previously have been ignored, changed or lost. (See D&C 1:8-16.)

Third, He divinely certifies that Joseph Smith Jr. is appointed as the instrument of God to restore the fulness of the gospel truths including additional scripture, the covenants of old, priesthood authority, and the true Church (see D&C 1:17-30.) With this divine endorsement the challenge is to study all that the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and others for the benefit of the covenant people of the Lord and His Church.

President Gordon B. Hinckley has written of the Doctrine and Covenants: "It contains the word of God to us of this generation . . . From

theT . . . majestic opening unfolds a wondrous doctrinal panorama that comes from the fountain of eternal truth. Some is direct revelation, with the Lord dictating to His prophet. Some is the language of Joseph Smith, written or spoken as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Also included is his narrative of events that occurred in various circumstances. All brought together, they constitute in very substantial measure the doctrine and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Hinckley declared it as

" . . . the constitution of the Church." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Order and Will of God," Ensign, January 1989, p. 2.) A constitution is a written instrument embodying a system of fundamental rules and principles. With regard to the Church , the Doctrine and Covenants defines the powers and duties of government of the Church and the rights and responsibilities of its members.

President Hinckley's designation and description of this sacred text provides a standard for us to utilize in examining its sacred record. The following are a few suggested examples of the " . . . measure of the doctrine and practices of the Church" that are contained within this record of scripture.

The order and procedures of the Church are defined in the Doctrine and Covenants. The regular convening of conferences (regional, stake, ward) is appointed. (D&C 20:61.) The pattern for sustaining those called to serve is founded upon the principle of common consent. (See D&C 26:2; 28:13; 124:144.) Ordinations to the offices of the priesthood require the endorsement of the judges of Israel as to preparation and worthiness as well as the sustaining by the members of the Church. (D&C 20:65-69.) Such procedures ensure that all who have appointments to lead and serve are openly acknowledged so that the Church and its members are protected from imposters. (See D&C 42:11.)

The ordinances of blessing and salvation are clearly prescribed and outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants. The blessing of children by the priesthood is mandated. (See D&C 20:70.) The administration to the sick, mentioned in the New Testament (see John 5:14) is provided with specific instruction (D&C 42:43-52; see also D&C 24:13-14).

The prayers for the ordinance of baptism is prescribed (D&C 20:73) and the age of accountability for children at age eight is likewise restored in the Doctrine and Covenants. (See D&C 68:25-29.) While the ordinance of the sacrament is taught in numerous scriptural records, the prayers are found only in two places, one in the Doctrine and Covenants and the other in the Book of Mormon. (See D&C 20:76-79; Moro. 4:5.)

The oath and covenant of the priesthood, for all who are ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, is found in D&C 84:33-44. Finally, the importance of the temple ordinances of the endowment (See D&C 109:13, 22-24; 35; 110:9-10; 124:39-41), and the sealing covenants (See D&C 131:1-4; 132:4-7, 9) are revealed for the blessings of all who qualify to receive them.

Another phase of Church order and practice that is sometimes taken for granted is the organization and operation of the priesthood. The New Testament, for example, mentions all the offices of the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthood but leaves us with only a partial understanding of responsibilities associated with the office of apostle (See Matt. 16:19; 19:25; Acts 4:33, 18:41; Eph. 2:20), bishop (See 1 Tim 3:1; Titus 1:7) and deacon (see 1 Tim. 3:8).

The Doctrine and Covenants provides a description of the rights and privileges associated with all the offices of the priesthood. Instruction for Aaronic Priesthood offices are: deacon (D&C 20:57), teacher (D&C 30:53-57), priest (D&C 20:46-52), and bishop (D&C 68:14-21; 72:9-12, 16; 107:13-17, 68-74).

Instruction for the Melchizedek Priesthood offices are: elder (D&C 29: 38-45), high priest (D&C 124:133-134), seventy (D&C 107:25-26, 24, 28, 90, 93-97), and apostle (D&C 18:27-33; 27:12-13; 107:8-9, 18, 23-24, 33, 35, 39, 58; 112:16-21, 30-32; 124:127-128).

The revealed quorum structure and presidency are contained in the following sections. (See D&C 107:85-87, 89, 93-97; 124; 127-128, 137.) The orderly transfer and safeguarding of the priesthood keys with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is also established by the following principles. (See D&C 81:2; 90:2-6, 13-16; 107:22, 91-92; 110:11-16.)

The very title Doctrine and Covenants speaks of its general content.

Many doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are reaffirmed, some elaborated upon, and others restored anew. To illustrate, the following passages provide a clear definition of the Godhead (see D&C 130:1-2, 22), along with a description of a kind of life one must live in mortality in order to inherit a kingdom of glory. (See D&C 76:50-112; 88:21-50; 130:6-11.)

These verses describe the principles upon which Zion will be built (see D&C 57:1-2; 58:1-12, 52-57; 59:1-10), the law of consecration as a celestial law, (see D&C 42:30-36; 51:1-15; 72:9-16; 78:3-8, 13-14). The Lord also suspended this law for future full application. (See D&C 105:34.) He warned about deceivers who would seek to overthrow the appointed place of the prophet leader. (See D&C 21:1-6; 28:2-3,6; 43:2-7; 50:1-9; 52:14-19.)

Among other doctrines and principles are the Lord's's health code (see D&C 49:18-21; 59:16-20; 89); the law of the Sabbath (see D&C 59:9-15) and the law of finance for the church. (See D&C 119; 120.)

There are numerous scriptural elaborations and commentary throughout this marvelous book such as forgiveness (D&C 64:6-11), the gifts of the spirit (D&C 46:7-29), discerning and the purpose of signs (D&C 63:7-11), the kingdom of God and heaven (D&C 65:1-6), explanation of 1 Cor. 7:14 (D&C 74) and the meaning of passages in the Book of Revelation (D&C 77), an explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares (D&C 86:1-7), difficult verses in Isaiah (D&C 113:1-10), and items of doctrinal instruction (D&C 130). An application for the Church today of the Savior's prophecy concerning His second coming (as recorded in Matthew, chapter 24) is found in the 45th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Many of the principles and doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the other scriptures are reaffirmed in this remarkable companion volume. Suffice to say, it testifies of Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice (See D&C 18:11-12; 19:16-19) and His literal resurrection from the dead. (see D&C 76: 20-24.)

The covenants of God with His people are also found within the pages of this scriptural gem. Those covenants associated with the ordinances have been previously cited. (See also D&C 42:13, 67, 78; 136:4.) The promises of gathering, temples and work for the dead, and the everlasting promises to the living are a part of the ongoing covenant work of the Church. (See D&C 52:2; 66:2; 90:24; 97:8; 101:39.) It is indeed a book of doctrine and covenants. (As a personal challenge, look up and study the passages cited in this article in their context.)

One additional note: all scripture is subject to interpretation. Only the President of the Church may interpret the scripture as it affects the entire body of the Saints.

President Ezra Taft Benson characterized the Doctrine and Covenants as the "capstone" of our faith (See Ensign, May 1987, p.83). The catalog of subjects listed in this article illustrates why the Doctrine and Covenants is a capstone to all other scripture. As President Gordon B. Hinckley said, it constitutes in a very substantial measure the doctrine and practices of the Church.

This new year provides us an opportunity to become better acquainted with its rich and powerful truths. The revelations speak to all, whether novice or experienced, first-time seekers or a frequent visitor of its pages. The truth brings light and life, especially to the one who earnestly seeks to live in harmony with its precepts. Make your examination of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Constitution of the Church, a joyous and enriching experience.

  • Edward J. Brandt is manager of the Evaluation Division of the Church Correlation Department and gospel doctrine teacher in the Hillcrest 2nd Ward, Sandy Utah Hillcrest Stake.

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