Viewpoint: Teaching and Learning in the Church

  • 31 December 2017

Today, as in all ages, we as the people of God “meet together oft” to teach and learn from one another.

“Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand” (D&C 88:78).

Speaking retrospectively about the worship of his people, the Nephites, Moroni recounted that they “did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls” (Moroni 6:5).

This vignette exemplifies what has seemed to be characteristic of the people of God in all ages. We do “meet together oft” to teach and learn from one another. In fact, teaching and learning are a fundamental part of the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been present in His Church from the beginning.

As every faithful Latter-day Saint can attest, learning and teaching occupy the bulk of the three hours in our weekly Sabbath day worship together in local units throughout the Church.

The Prophet Joseph Smith underscored the importance of teaching and learning. In an April 10, 1842, discourse in Nauvoo, Illinois, he declared, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 266).

As we observe the history of the Church throughout this dispensation, we observe the efforts of the Latter-day Saints to organize themselves in this important endeavor of teaching and learning from one another.

The School of the Prophets, organized in 1833 by the Prophet Joseph Smith to train priesthood holders to preach the gospel, in a very real sense is the forerunner to today’s instruction that occurs each Sabbath in the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and groups in the individual wards and branches.

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren focused primarily on learning the doctrines of the gospel.

Later, on March 17, 1842, the Relief Society was organized in Nauvoo, with Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph, as its first president. It was in some ways similar to other charitable organizations affiliated with Christian denominations of the period, with its focus on feeding, clothing, and housing the needy. But it was far more than that.

Meeting with the Relief Society on March 30 of that year, the Prophet called it “a select society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy.” By teaching and learning from one another they strengthened and edified one another spiritually.

This, of course, laid the foundation for the great Relief Society organization of today with its individual units in the wards and branches of the Church. Global in its reach, it has a rich history and a glorious mission.

A common thread of today’s priesthood auxiliary organizations in the Church is that they developed from the grassroots efforts of local members to teach and to edify.

Such was the case with the Sunday School. Richard Ballantyne, a convert to the Church from Whitridgebog, Scotland, emigrated to Nauvoo and later came west with the Saints, settling in Salt Lake City.

Familiar with Sunday schools in his former Christian denomination, Ballantyne received permission to establish a Sunday school for his own children and others in his neighborhood, adding a room onto his house for that purpose.

As this early effort developed, other Sunday schools in the Church were organized and it grew into a movement, eventually including classes for adults as well as children.

Ironically, the Sunday School organization in the Church is directed today to adults and youth. The task of teaching pre-teen children is filled by another organization with a grassroots origin, the Primary.

Aurelia Spencer Rogers, another Nauvoo Church member who came west with the Saints, organized the Church’s first Primary on August 28, 1878, in her community of Farmington, Utah, north of Salt Lake City. She was concerned with the rowdiness she observed among children she saw on the street and hoped to be able to teach them better deportment and moral and spiritual values.

With support from Relief Society General President Eliza R. Snow, that first Primary took root and spread throughout the Church. Today, it is a great and global organization that improves the lives of millions of children in Zion.

The Young Women organization in the Church began November 28, 1869, when President Brigham Young met with his daughters in the parlor of the Lion House in Salt Lake City, asking them to lead out in retrenchment from things of the world, to gain living testimonies, and to dress and act modestly.

This led to the formation, in May 1870, of what today is a worldwide organization in which young women support and edify one another as they learn and apply gospel principles through setting and attaining lofty goals.

President Young also founded what today is the Young Men organization. In 1875, he organized the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association with the goal of helping young men develop the gifts within them, stand up and speak, and bear testimony. It supports and parallels the Aaronic Priesthood quorums of the Church.

Articles in this week’s Church News highlight each of these Church auxiliaries. We see in them a dynamic, earnest effort to fulfill this commandment given in 1832 by Jesus Christ: “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand” (D&C 88:78).