Reading the Book of Mormon strengthens Latter-day Saints because doing so brings them closer to God, said the Sunday School general president, Russell T. Osguthorpe.
Brother Osguthorpe and his counselors in the Sunday School general presidency, Brother David M. McConkie and Brother Matthew O. Richardson, spoke recently with Church News regarding the Book of Mormon as the gospel doctrine course of study for adults and older youth in the Church during 2012.
Brother Osguthorpe said that during a training session for Church Educational System teachers, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve had challenged his listeners to look for the word strength or strengthen in their reading of the Book of Mormon. They were to do so without using a computer search function, just make note of the words as they came across them in their reading.
"I've been asking myself why Elder Bednar asked us to do this," he said. "I'm not against search tools, and I don't think he's against search tools but, in this particular instance, it is very powerful to look at those words in the context of what is happening in the story. For example, the Lord strengthens Captain Moroni over and over again. And I think the message to us is that the Lord strengthens us. And what does reading the Book of Mormon do? It strengthens us, because it brings us closer to God. Every time we get closer to God, He strengthens us."
Brother McConkie, first counselor, said that, just as not all truth is of equal value, not all scripture is of equal value. "And the Book of Mormon is the pinnacle of it all. That is the book of scripture that we can ponder and read and study, and it will change our lives ... because it was written for us, for our day."
He noted that the book's compiler, Mormon, indicated that he could envision the latter-day readers of the book. "He knew us, and as he selected things to abridge, he did it with us in mind. Even though prophets in the Bible obviously saw future times, their teachings were to the people of their own time. But the Book of Mormon is designed for us. Its teachings are designed for our families, for us individually, and it's the keystone of our religion."
Building upon that idea, Brother Richardson, second counselor, said, "The question is, what is in the book that is so meaningful to our day? And I think that becomes the teacher's and the learner's responsibility to read it not simply as historical text with great stories, but to find what is it in this book that has been preserved particularly to help us."
Alluding to the content on the title page, which itself is part of the translation of the book, Brother Richardson said the purpose is "proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, that God does inspire men and call them to His holy work in this age and generation as well as in the generations of old."
"That's a great challenge for those who are teaching it, to teach the text in a way that is true to what has been given," he said, "but also to do as Nephi said, 'to liken the scriptures unto ourselves,' to be able to find those nuggets, those gems, those tools to help us come nearer to Christ. And they are there in rich abundance."
Brother Osguthorpe said that a question that has been bothering him is why, knowing well that prophets have asked Church members to read the Book of Mormon every day, that so many do not do so and what more can be done to motivate them.
Regarding making the reading of the book a priority, Brother Osguthorpe told of a Latter-day Saint couple who, when seeking a home to purchase, told their real estate agent they needed one with a "learning center" where the family could study the scriptures together and one with bedrooms on the same floor to facilitate gathering family members together for daily scripture reading and family prayer.
"For those parents, that is a high priority, more so than a home theater with a powerful sound system," he remarked.
Brother McConkie responded that part of the motivation can come from a teacher who is teaching by the Spirit.
"If the teacher can stand as an independent witness and say, 'I'm doing this and I've felt the difference,' that helps the class to remember what prophets have said. The Spirit is then going to touch members of the class, and they're going to say, 'I need to do this.' "
Brother Richardson added, "I think one thing that's important is helping individuals see the relevance. We may understand conceptually that exercise is good for us, but if we don't see the relevant need for it, then it is not a high priority."
He added that there is plenty in the Book of Mormon that helps readers understand what to do within their own families. "You've got some children who are obedient, some who are disobedient. If individuals today are struggling with political climates, with social climates, with the greed of the world, the relevance of the text is really quite astounding."
The portions dealing with wars, for example, have relevance today, "not only with literal war but with the war that we're waging against all different types of temptation, addiction; those principles that apply are quite parallel to what is in the Book of Mormon when we see the relevant element."
Brother McConkie said the role of a teacher is to represent the Lord in teaching. "We should live so that we will be able to teach what He would teach if He were there. And He would teach what is relevant and what is needed by those people sitting in the class.
"He wouldn't be merely trying to cover content. He wouldn't be saying, 'I'm sorry, we can't have any questions today because we have a lot of material to cover.' He would discern the hearts of the people in that room and teach them.
"Teachers have that same privilege, that same blessing, if they will prayerfully prepare and ask the Lord's help; then they will know what to teach."
The key thereafter is to follow the promptings that come, he added.
Brother Richardson said a nice thing about teaching the text of the Book of Mormon is that in and of itself it contains the fulness of the gospel and the key doctrines.
"I would encourage both teachers and readers to go to one of my favorite lines in the introduction to the Book of Mormon where it says those who gain the divine witness by the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is the revelator and prophet in these lasts days and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's kingdom established on earth."
Brother Osguthorpe added, "And getting back to the individual needs of the learner, one of my favorite lines from the title page is that they will know of the covenants and know that they are not cast off. So a lot of people feel forgotten, left out, ignored, on the sideline. And the Book of Mormon says, 'You are a child of God.' "