A knowledge of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and a desire to serve them characterized the sixth president of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, whose teachings are the subject of study in the Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society classes for 2000-2001.
Many of the teachings of this leader, which will be taught on the second and third Sundays, have been compiled in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, which has been distributed among adult members throughout the world. This book was not prepared primarily as a lesson manual. Rather, it was prepared first as a reference work intended to be in the personal libraries of members of the Church. This is especially significant in non-English areas of the world where books on doctrine are not readily available. This text was preceded by a similar book of the teachings of Brigham Young, and will be followed by others in the future.
Joseph F. Smith was the last Church president to personally know the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was also acquainted personally with Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. He served in the First Presidency with each of these.
He began his service to the Church as a missionary in 1854 at age 15, served other missions in 1860 and 1864 at ages 21 and 25 and, in 1866 at age 27, was called as apostle and counselor in the First Presidency, where he served for the rest of his life, except for periods between the organization of the First Presidency.
Under his leadership, the First Presidency issued the 1909 statement on the Origin of Man and the 1916 Doctrinal Exposition on the Father and the Son. His vision of the redemption of the dead comprises Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
'Peacemaker, preacher of righteousness'
The new Teachings book contains 48 chapters on the major gospel themes of President Smith's sermons. The themes that were chosen center on those gospel doctrines and principles considered most relevant to the present time and to challenges that currently face many people. Because it is not a history book, the compilation does not include many events in his personal life, such as his marriages, nor the births and deaths of family members.
"He sought earnestly to know God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and to serve them with whole-souled devotion," states the book. "Blessed with a profound understanding of the gospel, he was able to lead his people in the principles of eternal truth and to steady the Church through attacks from opponents during the early years of the 20th century. He desired to be "a peacemaker, and preacher of righteousness" and he vigorously taught obedience, witnessing from his own experience that "all who will yield to the obedience and prompting of the Spirit . . . will get a clearer, and more expansive, and more direct and conclusive knowledge of God's truths than anyone else can obtain." (Teachings, p. ix.)
Both teachers and students are encouraged to spend more time in preparation for the Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society lessons. Teachers are also advised to study the new publication, Teaching, No Greater Call, pp. 97-105, which focuses on such principles as changing the lives of those who hear the lessons, deciding which are the most important specific principles to be taught, and how to teach these principles. Ideas on these can be cultivated and refined, adjusted and revised as needed. Although a teacher should be true to the teachings and guidelines in the manual, the material should be adapted so that the students can relate to it. After a lesson has been taught, a teacher may well evaluate the lesson according to its influence on those who were in the class. This pattern, which is detailed in sections 30-34 of Teaching, No Greater Call, will lead to more effective teaching.
The First Presidency has stated: "Individuals, families, quorums and Relief Societies can realize marvelous blessings as this new pattern is followed. . . . It is designed to encourage better gospel study and discussion in our homes and family settings and in Sunday services . . . [and] help each adult member of the Church to be more 'nourished by the good word of God.' " (Moro. 6:4, Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum Instructions, v.)
'We can always do better'
Regarding the new course of study, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve commented during the October 1999 general conference: "Gospel teaching is universal and important. Our Savior's occupation was that of a teacher. He was the Master Teacher, and He invites each one of us to follow Him in that great service. . . .
"I am convinced that in the Church, as with each of us individually, we can always do better."
Elder Oaks continued, "Well-taught doctrines and principles have a more powerful influence on behavior than rules. When we teach gospel doctrine and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching, and we enlist the faith of our students in seeking the guidance of that same Spirit in applying those teachings in their personal lives. . . .
"For the next two years we will be studying the teachings of President Joseph F. Smith. The books containing these teachings, which are being given to every adult member of the Church as a permanent, personal library resource, contain doctrine and principles. They are rich and relevant to the needs of our day and they are superb for teaching and discussion."
'Stay on safe ground'
Elder Oaks noted that while visiting quorums and Relief Societies, "I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher's choice. That is not acceptable. A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified."
Speaking during the April 1983 general conference of the preparation needed to teach effectively, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve observed, "Teachers would be well advised to study carefully the scriptures and their manuals before reaching for supplemental materials. Far too many teachers seem to stray from the approved curriculum materials without fully reviewing them.
"Teachers can stay on safe ground when they use the standard works, the approved manual, the writings of General Authorities."
According to the Quorum Instructions, the First Presidency identified several objectives regarding this course of study so members would know why Teachings of the Presidents of the Church and Teachings for Our Times are the subjects of the quorums and classes. These objectives are to:
- Put more substance into instruction, emphasizing the scriptures and doctrinal teachings of latter-day prophets.
- Strengthen the work of the quorums and Relief Society.
- Retain and strengthen converts.
- Have the flexibility to teach doctrines on timely subjects.
- Provide parallel gospel study materials for adult brethren and sisters.