This week we will be studying the D&C 20-22 Come Follow Me Lesson. This is the section when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized at the Whitmer home.
Here is what you have to look forward to this week in the D&C 20-22 Come, Follow Me lesson:
By These Things We Know
A Godly Walk
The Tension of Following a Living Prophet
Remembering The Body of His Son
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The “articles and covenants of the Church of Christ” set forth the offices, ordinances, and procedures that were to be part of the newly formed church. On 9 June 1830, at the first conference of the church following its organization, this document was presented to the membership for approval. The minutes of that meeting recorded, “Articles and Covenants read by Joseph Smith jr. and received by unanimous voice of the whole congregation, which consisted of most of the male members of the Church.”
The importance of Articles and Covenants to the church is suggested by the fact that it was the first revelatory document selected for printing in the church’s earliest periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, and the only one published there twice.2 In the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the compilers placed Articles and Covenants as the second section, preceded only by the revelatory “preface.”
Excerpt from Joseph Smith Papers Background Section 20
Joseph Smith dictated this revelation at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette Township, New York, after the meeting at which the Church of Christ was organized. Such a meeting had been anticipated by Joseph Smith and his followers for over a year, in part because Joseph’s revelations had foretold the establishment of a church. A March 1829 revelation to Martin Harris, for example, prophesied that a church would be established after three witnesses testified that they had seen the gold plates and after the words found on the plates were “sent forth.”
Excerpt from Joseph Smith Papers Background Section 21
Joseph Smith dictated this revelation shortly after the formal organization of the church on 6 April 1830. While the version featured here does not include a specific date, a manuscript copy in the handwriting of William E. McLellin dates the revelation to 16 April 1830. When John Whitmer copied the revelation into Revelation Book 1, he likely wrote the heading found there: “A Revelation given to Joseph the Seer Some were anxious to Join the Church without Rebaptism & Joseph enquired of the Lord & he received as follows.”
Excerpt from Joseph Smith Papers Background Section 22
The second thing needed to build the Church of Christ is a foundation of fundamental doctrine. Verses 17–36 declare this doctrine, beginning with the reality of Almighty God, his creation and plan of salvation, the Fall, and Heavenly Father’s plan to send his Only Begotten Son to atone for sin and redeem all willing children of God from the Fall.
This section sets forth obedience to the law of the gospel as the condition on which God saves his fallen children through the atonement of Jesus Christ. This expression of belief counters Calvinism, a common Christian theology. Section 20 and Calvinism agree that salvation comes as Jesus Christ justifies and then sanctifies fallen souls, but Calvinism’s articles of faith declared that once God had predestined a soul for salvation, nothing that soul could do would change the inevitable outcome.
Known as the perseverance of the Saints, this doctrine is refuted by section 20. Verses 17–36 clarify true theology, declaring that salvation does come through the grace of Jesus Christ but that we can fall from that grace if we choose to depart from the living God. Thus we have the need to pray always to overcome temptations that would carry us away from God.
The two presiding elders of the Church end this section with their testimonies of the true doctrine taught by the restored Church of Christ. One who wonders, “Is Mormonism Christian?” need only look at how these verses “concentrate on the reality of Christ’s mission and how one gains the benefits of the atonement.”
Indeed, section 20 closely aligns with early Christian doctrine and “then sets out to wash away” the later sediments that formed on the bedrock of Christ’s saving work.
Section 21 restored the Church of Jesus Christ. After nearly two millennia, duly authorized apostles are ordained and assigned by Jesus Christ to lead his Church. Many men and women have “wished,” as one wrote, “I had lived in the days of the prophets or apostles, that I could have sure guides.” Others looked forward, waiting for the Lord to send new apostles.
Those hopes were realized on April 6, 1830. In sum, as Joseph put it, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded upon direct revelation, as the true church of God has ever been, according to the scriptures.”
Section 21 gives order to the Church of Jesus Christ, who gives commandments to Joseph and makes Joseph responsible to give them to the Saints. The Lord appoints Oliver to preside over the Saints, Joseph over Oliver, and himself over Joseph. The Saints’ role in the Church is to “give heed” (v. 4) to his apostles as they give heed to him, and to “labor in my vineyard” (v. 9). This is the order of the Church established in section 21.
Having implemented it, Joseph said that afterward he and the others present enjoyed “a happy time spent in witnessing and feeling for ourselves the powers and the blessings of the Holy Ghost, through the grace of God bestowed upon us.”
For the first time in more than a millennium, a meeting of Saints “dismissed with the pleasing knowledge that we were now individually, members of, and acknowledged of God, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ organized in accordance with commandments and revelations, given by him to ourselves, in these last days, as well as according to the order of the Church as recorded in the New Testament.
“Let us not be content to retain some disposition to do evil. Let us worthily partake of the sacrament each week and continue to draw upon the Holy Spirit to root out the last vestiges of impurity within us.”