Church History Lesson 23 (D&C 88)
THE SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS
● A Solemn Assembly (D&C 88:70, 74, 117).
The Lord instructed the elders to call a “solemn assembly” and to sanctify and purify themselves, that they might receive knowledge. This was the nature of the “School of the Prophets” the Lord wanted to establish among them.
● How the School of the Prophets Functioned
— The School of the Prophets was organized 22 January 1833, less than four weeks after section 88 had directed its establishment. In accordance with the instructions in this revelation, all who participated in the school were admitted by receiving the ordinance of the washing of feet, symbolizing their being clean from the sins of the world. (D&C 88:74, 138–139).1
— The Setting for the School. According to President Brigham Young, the school of the prophets met in a small room, about ten by fourteen feet, situated above Joseph Smith’s kitchen at the back of Newel K. Whitney’s store.2
— A specific greeting ritual and covenant was used (D&C 88:132–137).
— Sessions began about sunrise and continued until about 4:00 M. Those attending were instructed to bathe, put on clean linen, and come to school fasting.
— In this school, the leaders of the Church were instructed in Gospel doctrine, the affairs of the Church, and other matters. They were to prepare for Church leadership and missionary service.
— Significant spiritual manifestations blessed meetings of the School of the Prophets. The following occurred when the First presidency was organized during one of the school’s sessions:
The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
“March 18.—Great joy and satisfaction continually beamed in the countenances of the School of the Prophets, and the Saints, on account of the things revealed, and our progress in the knowledge of God. The high priests assembled in the school room of the Prophets, and were organized according to revelation. . . .
“Elder Rigdon expressed a desire that himself and Brother Frederick G. Williams should be ordained to the offices to which they had been called, viz., those of Presidents of the high priesthood, and to be equal in holding the keys of the kingdom with Brother Joseph Smith, Jun., according to the revelation given on the 8th of March, 1833 [D&C 90:6]. Accordingly I laid my hands on Brothers Sidney and Frederick, and ordained them to take part with me in holding the keys of this last kingdom, and to assist in the Presidency of the high priesthood, as my Counselors; after which I exhorted the brethren to faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of God, and gave much instruction for the benefit of the Saints, with a promise that the pure in heart should see a heavenly vision; and after remaining a short time in secret prayer, the promise was verified; for many present had the eyes of their understanding, opened by the Spirit of God, so as to behold many things. I then blessed the bread and wine, and distributed a portion to each. Many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the Savior, and concourses of angels, and many other things, of which each one has a record of what he saw.”3
GOSPEL STUDY TODAY
● The Church Education System—Seminary, Institute, and Adult Education
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Our great program of Church education moves forward. The work of training students through the seminary and institute program is constantly being enlarged. . . . We urge all for whom it is available to take advantage of it. We do not hesitate to promise that your knowledge of the gospel will be increased, your faith will be strengthened, and you will develop wonderful associations and friendships.”4
President Wilford Woodruff said, “Do not be discouraged because you cannot learn all at once; learn one thing at a time, learn it well, and treasure it up, then learn another truth and treasure that up, and in a few years you will have a great store of useful knowledge which will not only be a great blessing to yourselves and your children, but to your fellow men.”5
● Patterns of Preparation
— “Establish a house” (D&C 88:119–120). This was fulfilled with the erection of the Kirtland Temple. These qualities, however, can also be applied to our present meetinghouses and even to our homes.
Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “The temple is a place of instruction. Here the principles of the gospel are reviewed and pro-found truths of the kingdom of God are unfolded. If we enter the temple in the right spirit and are attentive, we go out enriched in gospel knowledge and wisdom.”6
Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
“The temple is a great school. It is a house of learning. In the temples the atmosphere is maintained so that it is ideal for instruction in matters that are deeply spiritual. . . .
“The temple ceremony will not be fully understood at first experience. It will only be partly understood. Return again and again and again. Return to learn. Things that have troubled you or things that have been puzzling or things that have been mysterious will become known to you. Many of them will be the quiet, personal things that you really cannot explain to anyone else. But to you they are things known.
“So look toward the temple. Point your children toward the temple. From the days of their infancy, direct their attention to it, and begin their preparation for the day when they may enter the holy temple. In the meantime, be teachable yourself, be reverent. Drink deeply from the teachings—the symbolic, deeply spiritual teachings—available only in the temple.”7
President Ezra Taft Benson asked, “Do we return to the temple often to receive the personal blessings that come from regular temple worship? Prayers are answered, revelation occurs, and instruction by the Spirit takes place in the holy temples of the Lord.”8
— Personal preparation (D&C 88:121, 123–126). The members of this school are instructed to prepare themselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for participation in these classes.
— Teacher preparation (D&C 88:127–132). This advice applies to gospel teachers in all settings.
• “He that is appointed to be president, or teacher, shall be found standing in his place” (v. 128). The teacher should be “found . . . in his place,” not absent.
• “He shall be first in the house of God, in a place that the congregation in the house may hear his words carefully and distinctly, not with loud speech” (v. 129). Being “first” in this case means at the head of the class where everyone can see and hear him.
• “He should be first in the house”—arriving earlier than the students—which the Lord calls “beautiful, that he may be an example” (v. 130).
• “Let him offer himself in prayer upon his knees before God” (v. 131). Teacher preparation must include sincere prayer for the presence of the Spirit, always acknowledging the Lord and remembering “the everlasting covenant” (v. 131).
• “And when any shall come in after him, let the teacher arise, and, with uplifted hands . . . salute his brother or brethren” (v. 132). The teacher should greet the students as they arrive. Today, this is done with a simple greeting and handshake.
● What We Should Study and Learn
— “Teach ye diligently . . . the doctrine of the Kingdom” (D&C 88:77–79).
President Gordon B. Hinckley quoted Matt. 11:29 (“learn of me”), then said, “I should like to suggest that you follow that injunction given by the Son of God. With all of your learning, learn of him. With all of your study, seek knowledge of the Master. That knowledge will complement in a wonderful way the secular training you receive and give a fulness to your life and character that can come in no other way.”9
President Thomas S. Monson said, “A . . . hallmark of a happy home is discovered when home is a library of learning. . . .The Lord counseled, `Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith’ (D&C 88:118). The standard works offer the library of learning of which I speak. We must be careful not to underestimate the capacity of children to read and to understand the word of God.”10
— Other branches of knowledge are also important—astronomy, geology, history, culture, foreign affairs, and more (D&C 90:15; D&C 93:53).
● Why We Should Study and Learn
— To magnify our callings, especially in missionary work but also as parents, in church callings, and in service to our fellow men (D&C 88:80–82). We are to seek seriously, through study and faith, to be “prepared in all things.”
— To go forth and preach—warn the people, that they might be left without excuse
President Brigham Young said, “Our education should be such as to improve our minds and fit us for increased usefulness; to make us of greater service to the human family.”11
Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “Because of our sacred regard for each human intellect, we consider the obtaining of an education to be a religious responsibility. . . . Our Creator expects His children everywhere to educate themselves.”12
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. The Lord has said very plainly that His people are to gain knowledge of countries and kingdoms and of things of the world through the process of education, even by study and by faith. Education is the key which will unlock the door of opportunity for you. It is worth sacrificing for It is worth working at, and if you educate your mind and your hands, you will be able to make a great contribution to the society of which you are a part, and you will be able to reflect honorably on the Church of which you are a member. My dear young brothers and sisters, take advantage of every educational opportunity that you can possibly afford, and you fathers and mothers, encourage your [children] to gain an education which will bless their lives.”13
● How We Should Learn
— By study and faith (D&C 88:118). Both are required in order to learn. Learning by faith is based on the premise that God knows all things and will reveal eternal truths to his children if they diligently seek them.
Elder Marion G. Romney said, “I believe in study. I believe that men learn much through study. . . . I also believe, however, and know, that learning by study is greatly accelerated by faith.”14
President Harold B. Lee said, “Learning by faith requires the bending of the whole soul through worthy living to become attuned to the Holy Spirit of the Lord.”15
— Through consistent and diligent effort. There is a real difference between mere reading and a diligent, systematic study effort.
— Out of the best books. The Lord wants us to read good literature.
President John Taylor said, “We ought to foster education and intelligence of every kind; cultivate literary tastes, and men of literary and scientific talent should. improve that talent; and all should magnify the gifts which God has given unto them. . . . If there is anything good and praiseworthy in morals, religion, science, or anything calculated to exalt and ennoble man, we are after it. But with all our getting, we want to get understanding, and that understanding which flows from God.”16
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“You know that your children will read. They will read books and they will read magazines and newspapers. Cultivate within them a taste for the best. While they are very young, read to them the great stories which have become immortal because of the virtues they teach. Expose them to good books. Let there be a corner somewhere in your house, be it ever so small, where they will see at least a few books of the kind upon which great minds have been nourished.
“Let there be good magazines about the house, those which are produced by the Church and by others, which will stimulate their thoughts to ennobling concepts. Let them read a good family newspaper that they may know what Is going on in the world without being exposed to the debasing advertising and writing so widely found.”17
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Today, with the abundance of books available, it is the mark of a truly educated man to know what not to read. . . . Feed only on the best. As John Wesley’s mother counseled him: ‘Avoid whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, . . . increases the authority of the body over the mind.'”18
● How the gospel should be taught (D&C 88:122). Rather than lectures or sermons, gospel teaching should be a collaborative discussion—”that all may be edified of all.”
1. History of the Church, 1:323.
2. In Journal of Discourses, 12:157.
3. History of the Church, 1:334–335.
4. In Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 69; or Ensign, May 1984, 47.
5. The Discourses of President Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham , 269.
6. “Looking toward the Temple,” Ensign, Jan. 1972, 56–57.
7. The Holy Temple [pamphlet, 1982], 6–8.
8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 98; or Ensign, May 1988, 85.
9. In Conference Report, Oct. 1964, 118; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1964, 1092.
10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 81–82; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 70.
11. Discourses of President Brigham Young, sel. Elder John A. Widtsoe , 255.
12. In Conference Report, Oct. 1992, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1992, 6.
13. “Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, June 1999, 4.
14. Learning for the Eternities, 72.
15. In Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 94.
16. The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham , 277.
17. In Conference Report, Oct. 1975, 57–58.
18. “In His Steps,” in 1979 Devotional Speeches of the Year , 61.