Church History Lesson 09 (D&C 20–21; 115)
There are three sections of the Doctrine and Covenants associated with the Church’s organization:
— D&C 20 April 1830 The Constitution of the Church.
— D&C 21 Apr 6, 1830 Given at the organizational meeting.
— D&C 22 April 1830 Given shortly thereafter.
These were accepted by members as the “Articles and Covenants of the Church,” making them the first canonized scripture in the Church.
THE CHURCH IS ORGANIZED (D&C 21)
● Section 21 was given through the Prophet on Tuesday, April 6, 1830, in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. on the historic occasion of the organization of the Church.1
● Six individuals acted as charter members for the organizing process: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, Samuel H. Smith, and Peter Whitmer Jr.
● There were more than just these six individuals present when the Church was organized. There were more than 50 other people present at the log home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York. New York law required that a church have at least six members to be formally organized. So six men, all of whom had been baptized and had seen the gold plates, became the first official members of the Church.
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“This day of organization was, in effect, a day of commencement, the graduation for Joseph from ten years of remarkable schooling. It had begun with the incomparable vision in the grove in the spring of 1820, when the Father and the Son appeared to the fourteen-year-old boy. It had continued with the tutoring from Moroni, with both warnings and instructions given on multiple occasions. Then there was the translation of the ancient record, and the inspiration, the knowledge, the revelation that came from that experience. There was the bestowal of divine authority, the ancient priesthood again conferred upon men by those who were its rightful possessors John the Baptist in the case of the Aaronic Priesthood, and Peter, James, and John in the case of the Melchizedek. There were revelations, a number of them, in which the voice of God was heard again, and the channel of communication opened between man and the Creator. All of these were preliminary to that historic April 6.”2
Significance of April 6th
— Christ: Date he was born, and the date he was resurrected.
— Moses: Date of the Passover and the Exodus.
— Country: The date on which George Washington became the first U.S. President.
The Name of the Church
● The name of the new church was “The Church of Christ.” (see also 3 Nephi 27:8).
B. H. Roberts said, “The appropriateness of the title is self-evident, and in it there is a beautiful recognition of the relationship of the Lord Jesus Christ and the saints to the organization. It is ‘The Church of Jesus Christ.’ He owns it, for he organized it. It is his, for he gave himself for it. It is the sacred depository of his truth. It is his instrumentality for promulgating all those spiritual truths in which he would have mankind instructed. It is also the Christ’s instrumentality for the perfecting of the saints, as well as for the work of the ministry.”3
● The Church was also called by other names in its early years, but in April 1838 the Lord revealed the name by which His Church was to be known thereafter—“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115:4–5).
● It is important that the Lord’s Church be called in His name? (See 3 Nephi 27:8.)
● The name “Mormon” is a nickname given to the Church because of the Book of Mormon. But we prefer to call our Church by its complete name to emphasize our belief in the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Following the Prophet
During the meeting at which the Church was organized, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were sustained as the presiding officers of the Church.4 The Lord instructed members of the Church to follow Joseph Smith as the prophet.
● How we should regard the words of the living prophet (D&C 1:38; 21:4–5).
● Members are to follow the Prophet with all patience and faith (D&C 21:1–6). It sometimes requires patience or faith to follow the counsel of the prophet.
Elder Harold B. Lee said:
“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; . . . as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5). There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. . . .
“Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over his church. He knows whom he wants to preside over this church, and he will make no mistake. The Lord doesn’t do things by accident. . . . Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.”5
● Blessings that the Lord promises those who follow the prophet (D&C 21:6).
● The Lord also promised “a mighty blessing” to those who labor in His service (D&C 21:9).
Meeting Together Often to Partake of the Sacrament
A the meeting in which the Church was organized, members partook of the sacrament.6 In D&C 20, the Lord revealed information about how the sacrament should be administered (vv. 75–79) and why it is important to partake of the sacrament often (v. 75).
● The Lord also revealed the sacrament prayers (D&C 20:77, 79). The promises we make in these prayers are mentioned elsewhere in scripture also (see Luke 22:19–20; 3 Nephi 18:7, 10–11.)
● Both prayers emphasize remembering Jesus. What does it mean to remember Him always? How does the sacrament help us remember Him?
● The Lord makes promises in the sacrament prayers to those who partake worthily of it (D&C 20:77, 79.)
● In D&C 27, the Lord gave further instructions to Joseph Smith regarding the sacrament.
— What did Joseph learn about the sacrament in this revelation? (D&C 27:2).
— How can we partake of the sacrament “with an eye single to [Christ’s] glory”?
CHURCH ORGANIZATION AND GOVERNMENT (D&C 20)
Section 20 was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith in April of 1830 in Fayette, New York. It is known as the “Revelation on Church Organization and Government.”7 It served as a kind of constitution for the restored Church. It became a standard against which proper conduct and procedure were measured. The writing of this revelation began sometime in 1829 but was not completed until after 6 April 1830.
Section 20 was first presented to the Church membership for sustaining vote on 9 June 1830 at the first conference of the Church in Fayette, New York.
Fundamental Doctrines of the Church
— D&C 20:1–12 The Restoration is summarized.
— D&C 20:17–25 The plan of salvation and the Atonement.
— D&C 20:30–31 Justification and sanctification.
— D&C 20:37 Qualifications for baptism.
The Duties of Priesthood Holders
— D&C 20:38–44 Duties of an Apostle
— D&C 20:45 Duties of an elder
— D&C 20:46–52 Duties of a priest
— D&C 20:53–59 Duties of teachers and deacons.
— D&C 20:60 Priesthood ordinations are to be done under the influence of the Holy Ghost.
— D&C 20:61–62 Conferences are to be held regularly.
— D&C 20:63–65 Common consent is required—sustaining by members before ordination.
The Duties of Members after Baptism
— D&C 20:68–69 After baptism, and after showing evidence of their faith, members are to be confirmed and the Gift of the Holy Ghost bestowed upon them.
The Duties of Parents Toward Their Children
— D&C 20:70 Children are to be blessed in Church meetings.
— D&C 20:71 Children are to be baptized at the age of accountability.
Instructions Regarding the Performance of Essential Ordinances
— D&C 20:72–74 The ordinance of baptism
— D&C 20:75–77 The ordinance of blessing of the sacrament bread
— D&C 20:78–79 The ordinance of blessing of the sacrament wine (water).
How to Handle Church Membership
— D&C 20:80 Transgressors are to be dealt with as the scriptures direct
— D&C 20:81–84 Church memberships are to be tracked carefully and sent to priesthood leaders when members move into their area.
The Need for Authorized Baptism into the Church
Section 22 was given a few days later in response to some who didn’t think re-baptism was required.
— Baptism must be done by someone holding proper authority.
— Baptism is required and is a new and everlasting covenant.
1. History of the Church, 1:74–79.
2. “150-Year Drama: A Personal View of Our History,” Ensign, Apr. 1980, 11—12.
3. A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:393.
4. History of the Church, 1:77.
5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152–153.
6. History of the Church, 1:78.
7. History of the Church, 1:64–70.