As they embark anew on a year-long study of the Book of Mormon, students and teachers in Sunday School gospel doctrine classes should focus on obtaining a witness of its divinity and truth, not just once but many times, members of the Sunday School general presidency affirmed.
In a recent conversation, A. Roger Merrill, Sunday School general president suggested that gospel doctrine teachers "create the opportunity for people to come in contact with the Book of Mormon that it might be the channel or instrument for their own revelation in coming closer to God."
"The Book of Mormon scriptures have been likened to a Urim and Thummim or a Liahona," Brother Merrill said, alluding to Book of Mormon accounts of two divinely given instruments for receiving revelation.
Typically, Church members today likely are more familiar with the Book of Mormon than any other volume of scripture, he noted. "So, sometimes, a teacher might think, 'I've got to bring in a bunch of new information.' Maybe it would be wiser just to go in the opposite direction: You've got the Book of Mormon, you've got the Spirit. Help people have an experience where the Book of Mormon becomes the instrument of revelation, so that they get multiple witnesses that the book is true. Not just a single witness, but every time they read."
Daniel K. Judd, first counselor, recalled a statement from Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve, 1972-1985: "I sometimes think that one of the best-kept secrets of the kingdom is that the scriptures open the door to the receipt of revelation" (Doctrines of the Restoration, ed. Mark L. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft 1989, p. 243).
"I would hope," Brother Judd remarked, "that our teachers and students would use that 30 or 40 minutes of class time to focus on the scriptures themselves and, even more important, see them as a means to open our minds and hearts to the revelations available to us in our lives, as individuals, as families, even as a ward or a stake."
William D. Oswald, second counselor, referred to the oft-quoted statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon is the "keystone of our religion."
"The Book of Mormon holds our testimonies in place," Brother Oswald commented. "Once you have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, then you have a witness that the Savior is the Son of God, that Joseph Smith is the latter-day prophet of the Restoration and that the Church is, in fact, divinely established and created."
Brother Merrill suggested that individual students in gospel doctrine classes prayerfully arrive at a few objectives that they hope will happen in their lives from this year's study of the Book of Mormon.
"Joseph Smith said a man could get closer to God by abiding by its precepts," he noted. Thus, a student could ask, "How can I get closer to God through my experience with the Book of Mormon this year?" He suggested that a good way to do that is to complete this sentence: "This year, my experience with the Book of Mormon is going to be different than any other year because ...."
Brother Judd declared that though the book is an ancient record, it is as relevant today as it ever was.
"It begins as a story of a family," he observed. "Did they have challenges? Did they have any personal crises of any kind? Look at Lehi: Did he ever have moments where he had personal doubts? Did he ever murmur? And Sariah: Did she ever have any times when she had conflicts of conscience and anxieties about her family? Did they ever have any trouble with their children? So my point is, it's a book about us, challenges that we face. And we can learn so much, both in the text, but even more important, through revelation regarding our individual challenges today."
Brother Oswald said Mormon, the abridger of the Nephite record, provides a pattern worth emulating by frequently pausing in his narrative to draw some conclusion introduced with the phrase "And thus we see...."
"Take time out and ponder about what we've learned from this or that event of Nephite history that's applicable to our day," he suggested. "Maybe that's an example for what a teacher ought to be doing."
David J. Ridges, executive secretary to the Sunday School general presidency, said he finds meaning in Nephi's psalm recorded in the fourth chapter of 2 Nephi. In this chapter, Nephi exclaims that he is a "wretched man" because of the frailties of the flesh that so easily beset him. "But we read that he can rejoice because of Christ, because of the Rock of our salvation," Brother Ridges commented. "And that's the message: We've got to finish the message, not just look at our faults, but say there is perfect brightness of hope, literally, for each of us if we continue striving."
E-mail to: [email protected]