“Lectures on Theology (‘Lectures on Faith’),” Church History Topics
“Lectures on Theology”
The Lectures on Faith is the popular title of a set of seven theological lectures delivered in the School of the Elders in Kirtland, Ohio, in the winter of 1834–35. These lectures represent perhaps the earliest attempt to formulate a systematic Latter-day Saint theology, informed by the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s early revelations. They define faith and the conditions on which it is acquired and nourished. Three things are necessary, the lectures teach, for any “rational and intelligent being” to exercise the faith in God necessary for salvation: first, the idea that God exists; second, a correct idea of His character and attributes; and third, a knowledge that the course of life one pursues is in accordance with His will.1 The lectures elaborate on and explain these ideas.
The first lecture was published as a broadside in February 1835, and the fifth and sixth were published in the Church’s newspaper in May 1835. All seven lectures were published together later that year in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the lectures constituting the “doctrine,” and Joseph Smith’s revelations, the “covenants.” The lectures were included in English editions of the Doctrine and Covenants until 1921 and in most non-English translations.
The lectures had no specified author, and no manuscript copies exist, leading to speculation about who wrote the lectures. According to Jedediah M. Grant, a resident of Kirtland in 1835, both Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon acted as teachers in the school. Scholars who have examined the scant historical documentation argue that Sidney Rigdon was the author or at least a heavy collaborator in producing the lectures.2 Indeed, Brigham Young called them the lectures “Brother Sidney prepared.”3 The extent of Joseph Smith’s involvement in the production of the lectures, if any, is unknown. Nevertheless, the inclusion of the lectures in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 strongly suggests that Joseph Smith approved of the content of the lectures.4
The publication of the Lectures on Faith in the Doctrine and Covenants elevated its status among Church members. In the early 20th century, however, Church leaders became increasingly concerned about some of the statements in the Lectures on Faith. For example, the fifth lecture speaks of the Father as a “personage of spirit,” which seems to contradict Joseph Smith’s teaching (expressed in 1843, several years after the lectures were given) that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22).5 Elder James E. Talmage, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who led the committee that revised the 1921 Doctrine and Covenants, felt that it would be best to “avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief.”6 In addition, the lectures had not been accepted by the Church as anything other than theological lessons, Talmage’s committee argued. Based on these recommendations, the Lectures on Faith were dropped from the Doctrine and Covenants.
Even after their removal from the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lectures on Faith have been studied frequently by missionaries and other Church members in reprinted editions, and Church publications sometimes quote from the lectures. “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things,” a frequently quoted line reads, “never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”7
Related Topics: Doctrine and Covenants