“Chapter 9: Doctrine and Covenants 20–22,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 9,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord commanded that His Church be organized on April 6, 1830. Although this revelation, now found as Doctrine and Covenants 20, was recorded a few days after the Church’s organization, portions of it may have been revealed as early as June 1829. This revelation highlights the importance of the Book of Mormon, outlines responsibilities of priesthood offices, and provides instructions for the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament.
On the day the Church was organized, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 21. In it the Lord designated him as a prophet, seer, and leader of the restored Church and exhorted the Church members to heed the Prophet’s words. Soon after the Church was established, some people questioned whether those who had been baptized previously in other churches needed to be baptized again to become members of the restored Church. Joseph inquired of the Lord and received the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 22, wherein the Lord taught that baptism must be performed by those with proper authority.
End of March 1830
The printing of the Book of Mormon was completed.
April 6, 1830
The Church was organized by Joseph Smith in Fayette, New York.
April 6, 1830
Doctrine and Covenants 21 was received.
After April 6, 1830
Doctrine and Covenants 20 was finalized and recorded (though portions were likely received months earlier).
April 16, 1830
Doctrine and Covenants 22 was received.
June 9, 1830
The first Church conference was held in Fayette, New York.
The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that in June 1829, in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr., the voice of God commanded him and Oliver Cowdery to ordain one another as elders but specified that they should delay the ordination until their brethren could assemble and provide their consent by vote (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, ed. Karen Lynn Davidson and others , 326; see also D&C 128:21). Also in June, the Lord commanded Oliver Cowdery to help “build up [the Lord’s] church” (D&C 18:5) by relying upon the Book of Mormon, which was nearing completion at that time. Subsequently, Oliver compiled a document called “Articles of the Church of Christ,” which included details about ordinances, priesthood offices, and Church procedures as found in the Book of Mormon (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay and others , 368–74). This information may have been intended to guide believers until the time when the Church would be established.
While it is not known exactly when the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 20 was received, the Prophet Joseph Smith summarized the flow of divine direction: “In this manner did the Lord continue to give us instructions from time to time, concerning the duties which now devolved upon us, and among many other things of the kind, we obtained of him the following, by the Spirit of Prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to his will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once again, here upon the earth” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, 336; spelling standardized). Those instructions became known as the “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ.”
The complete text of the Articles and Covenants was written soon after the organizational meeting held on April 6, 1830, and provides an overview of the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ and of offices and ordinances in it. At the first conference of the Church, held on June 9, 1830, at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr., the Articles and Covenants were read and presented to the membership for approval (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 116–26). Over the next few years, the Articles and Covenants, now Doctrine and Covenants 20, was amended from time to time as the Prophet Joseph Smith continued to receive revelation concerning the structure of the Church. For example, Doctrine and Covenants 20:65–67 was added after the office of high priest was revealed in Kirtland, Ohio, in June 1831 (see the section heading to D&C 52).
Following the deaths of the ancient Apostles, unauthorized changes were made to the organization, doctrine, and ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ. After centuries of apostasy, the Lord restored His gospel and His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This restoration included the organization of the Church of Christ on April 6, 1830. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) testified of the destiny of the Lord’s Church:
“Joseph Smith and his associates met in the inconspicuous log house on the Peter Whitmer farm in the quiet village of Fayette, New York, and organized the Church of Christ.
“From that modest beginning something truly remarkable has happened. Great has been the history of this work. Our people have endured every kind of suffering. Indescribable have been their sacrifices. Immense beyond belief have been their labors. But out of all of this fiery crucible has come something glorious. Today we stand on the summit of the years and look about us.
“From the original six members has grown a vast family of worshipers. … From that quiet village has grown a movement that today is scattered through some 160 nations of the earth. … Within its vast embrace are members from many nations who speak many tongues. It is a phenomenon without precedent. As the tapestry of its past has unrolled, a beautiful pattern has come to view. It finds expression in the lives of a happy and wonderful people. It portends marvelous things yet to come” (“The Church Goes Forward,” Ensign, May 2002, 4).
When the restored Church was officially organized on April 6, 1830, it was called the Church of Christ. In 1834, a Church council approved the title Church of the Latter Day Saints as a preferred alternative name for the Church. Finally, in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in April 1838, the Lord declared that His Church would be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see D&C 115:4).
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the purpose and significance of God’s Church in our quest for exaltation:
“Exaltation is the goal of this mortal journey, and no one gets there without the means of the gospel of Jesus Christ: His Atonement, the ordinances, and the guiding doctrine and principles that are found in the Church.
“It is the Church wherein we learn the works of God and accept the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that saves us. It is within the Church that we form the commitments and covenants of eternal families that become our passport to exaltation. It is the Church that is powered by the priesthood to propel us through the unpredictable waters of mortality” (“God Is at the Helm,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015, 27).
Doctrine and Covenants 20 reviews some of the significant events of the Restoration. For example, Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and “received a remission of his sins” during the First Vision (D&C 20:5). The “holy angel” Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and instructed him and “gave unto him commandments which inspired him” (D&C 20:6–7). Joseph Smith later obtained the golden plates and was given “power” and “means” to translate the Book of Mormon (D&C 20:8). Others, such as the Three Witnesses, received confirmation of the Book of Mormon’s divine origin (see D&C 20:10). The restoration of priesthood authority is evident in the ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as the first and second elders of the Church (see D&C 20:2–3).
This revelation also testifies that the Book of Mormon establishes the truthfulness of the Bible (see D&C 20:11; see also 1 Nephi 13:40; Mormon 7:8–9). Furthermore, this revelation emphasizes the vital role of the Book of Mormon by promising eternal life to “those who receive it in faith” and condemning “those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it” (D&C 20:14–15).
The Lord defined “the fulness of the gospel” (D&C 20:9) as “the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel” (D&C 39:11). The Doctrine and Covenants contains several revelations that indicate that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel (see D&C 20:9; 27:5; 42:12; 135:3).
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) explained: “The Lord Himself has stated that the Book of Mormon contains the ‘fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ (D&C 20:9.) That does not mean it contains every teaching, every doctrine ever revealed. Rather, it means that in the Book of Mormon we will find the fulness of those doctrines required for our salvation. And they are taught plainly and simply so that even children can learn the ways of salvation and exaltation. The Book of Mormon offers so much that broadens our understandings of the doctrines of salvation. Without it, much of what is taught in other scriptures would not be nearly so plain and precious” (“The Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Jan. 1992, 5).
In Doctrine and Covenants 20:17, the phrase “by these things” refers to the truths we know through the Book of Mormon (see D&C 20:8–10). Through the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel, Latter-day Saints have been given a clearer understanding of the doctrines related to our personal salvation, especially the central role of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
“In the twentieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord devotes several verses to summarizing the vital truths which the Book of Mormon teaches. (See vs. 17–36.) It speaks of God, the creation of man, the Fall, the Atonement, the ascension of Christ into heaven, prophets, faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, endurance, prayer, justification and sanctification through grace, and loving and serving God.
“We must know these essential truths. Aaron and Ammon and their brethren in the Book of Mormon taught these same kinds of truths to the Lamanite people (see Alma 18:22–39), who were ‘in the darkest abyss’ (Alma 26:3). After accepting these eternal truths, the Book of Mormon states, those converted Lamanites never did fall away. (See Alma 23:6.)
“If our children and grandchildren are taught and heed these same truths, will they fall away? We best instruct them in the Book of Mormon at our dinner table, by our firesides, at their bedsides, and in our letters and phone calls—in all of our goings and comings” (“A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 7).
The phrase “we know” is used several times in Doctrine and Covenants 20:17–36 (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:17, 29, 30, 31, 35). It reflects a spirit of testimony and reminds Church members that these fundamental doctrines shape our beliefs.
To receive a remission of our sins requires that we “come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits” (D&C 20:37). President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught what it means to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit: “Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson , 83).
In the early years of the restored Church, the term apostle was often applied to elders involved in missionary work (see, for example, the Lord’s reference to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer in D&C 18:9, 14). It is also helpful to note that at the time the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 20 was given, the office of high priest in the Melchezidek priesthood had not yet been revealed. The title “Elder” is now used to describe any Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is called to preach the gospel, regardless of his priesthood office. “For example, male missionaries are addressed as elders. Also, an Apostle is an elder, and it is proper to speak of members of the Quorum of the Twelve or Quorums of the Seventy by this title (D&C 20:38; 1 Pet. 5:1)” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Elder,” scriptures.lds.org).
When the Church was organized in 1830, the Lord outlined the responsibilities and duties of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons. Since that time, additional details have been revealed regarding these priesthood offices. Nevertheless, the important instructions outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 20:38–59 are principles that all priesthood holders should continue to study and follow. President Thomas S. Monson emphasized the need to know our duty and to carry it out in the service of others:
“The priesthood is not really so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others.
“The call of duty can come quietly as we who hold the priesthood respond to the assignments we receive. President George Albert Smith, that modest yet effective leader, declared, ‘It is your duty first of all to learn what the Lord wants and then by the power and strength of His holy Priesthood to magnify your calling in the presence of your fellows in such a way that the people will be glad to follow you’ [in Conference Report, Apr. 1942, 14]” (“Do Your Duty—That Is Best,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 59).
The sacrament was administered by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on April 6, 1830, the day that the Church was organized. The Lord commanded members of His Church to “meet together often to partake of [the sacrament] in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus” (D&C 20:75).
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained one of the reasons why it is a blessing to participate in this sacred ordinance: “The sacramental prayers confirm that one of the central purposes of the sacrament as instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ is that we might ‘always remember him’ (D&C 20:77, 79). Remembering the Savior obviously includes remembering His Atonement, which is symbolically represented by the bread and water as emblems of His suffering and death. We must never forget what He did for us, for without His Atonement and Resurrection, life would have no meaning. With His Atonement and Resurrection, however, our lives have eternal, divine possibilities” (“To Always Remember Him,” Ensign, Apr. 2011, 49).
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how keeping the covenant to always remember Jesus Christ can help us make better choices:
“When our day-to-day challenges loom before us, it is natural to focus on the here and now. But when we do, we may make poor choices, become depressed, or experience hopelessness. Because of this human tendency, prophets have admonished us to remember the eternal perspective. Only then can we successfully navigate mortality. …
“Each Sunday the sacrament helps us remember God’s goodness and marvelous promises. By partaking of simple, tangible objects—a piece of bread and a sip of water—we promise to always remember the Savior and His great atoning sacrifice. Through the sacrament, we renew our covenants and express our willingness to keep His commandments. …
“With the help of the sacrament, we can always remember Him and maintain an eternal perspective” (“Maintaining an Eternal Perspective,” Ensign, Mar. 2014, 56, 59).
When we partake of the sacrament worthily, we signify our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained what it means to be willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ:
“Our witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ has several different meanings. …
“… We take upon us the name of Christ when we are baptized in his name, when we belong to his Church and profess our belief in him, and when we do the work of his kingdom. …
“It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77.) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense. …
“Willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ can … be understood as willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ. According to this meaning, by partaking of the sacrament we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us. …
“… When we witness our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, we are signifying our commitment to do all that we can to achieve eternal life in the kingdom of our Father. We are expressing our candidacy—our determination to strive for—exaltation in the celestial kingdom” (“Taking upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 1985, 80–82).
Following the Lord’s instructions to organize His Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith gathered approximately 60 believers together at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York, on Tuesday, April 6, 1830. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery organized the Church according to the will of God and according to the laws of the state of New York. The meeting consisted of prayer, sustainings, ordinations, the administration of the sacrament, and confirmations of those previously baptized. At this meeting, the Prophet received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 21.
To the believers who were gathered on the day the Church was organized, the Lord described the divine callings given to His ordained servant Joseph Smith. Joseph was to be known as “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church” (D&C 21:1; see also D&C 107:91–92; 124:125; 127:12; 135:3). These sacred responsibilities distinguished Joseph Smith from all of the other religious leaders of his day. This mighty prophet of the latter days was not to be simply a presiding officer; he was authorized by God to establish the Lord’s Church and to bring forth the revealed word of the Lord.
The importance of record-keeping in the Church was emphasized in the revelation given at the organizational meeting of the Church. Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy and former Church Historian noted that the Lord’s command to keep a record remains in force today: “The history of the Church of Jesus Christ and its people deserves our remembrance. The scriptures give the Church’s history high priority. In fact, much of scripture is Church history. On the very day the Church was organized, God commanded Joseph Smith, ‘Behold, there shall be a record kept among you’ [D&C 21:1]. Joseph acted on this command by appointing Oliver Cowdery, the second elder in the Church and his chief assistant, as the first Church historian. We keep records to help us remember, and a record of the Church’s rise and progress has been kept from Oliver Cowdery’s time to the present day. This extraordinary historical record reminds us that God has again opened the heavens and revealed truths that call our generation to action” (“Remember and Perish Not,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 37).
The Lord guides His people through His chosen servants. In April 1830, those believers who would become members of the Church were instructed to “give heed” to the words and commandments of the Prophet Joseph Smith as if they came from the mouth of the Lord (see D&C 21:4–5). In another revelation the Lord explained why the prophet can be considered as God’s mouthpiece: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
The Lord also counseled those who would become members of His Church to receive the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words “in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:5). President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) explained how this passage applies to all Church members today: “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. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (D&C 21:6)” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee , 84–85).
Shortly after the Church’s organization, some who desired to join the newly established Church of Christ struggled with the requirement that they must be baptized again. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The question of divine authority … was not firmly fixed in their minds. When they desired to come into the Church, having received the testimony that Joseph Smith had told a true story, they wondered why it was necessary for them to be baptized again when they had complied with an ordinance of baptism by immersion” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:109).
The revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 22 was received on April 16, 1830. The earliest written accounts of this revelation were sometimes included as part of the Articles and Covenants, probably because the revelation clarifies the doctrine of baptism taught in Doctrine and Covenants 20.
The Lord answered the question about the need for new members to be baptized again by declaring that “a new and an everlasting covenant” had been given (D&C 22:1). The fulness of the gospel is referred to as the new and everlasting covenant when it is revealed in a new dispensation. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“The new and everlasting covenant is the fulness of the gospel. It is composed of ‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations’ that are sealed upon members of the Church by the Holy Spirit of promise, or the Holy Ghost, by the authority of the President of the Church who holds the keys. …
“Marriage for eternity is a new and everlasting covenant. Baptism is also a new and everlasting covenant, and likewise ordination to the priesthood, and every other covenant is everlasting and a part of the new and everlasting covenant which embraces all things” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. , 1:65).
The “strait gate” refers to baptism (see 2 Nephi 31:17–18). In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 22, the Lord compared individuals who desired to join His restored Church without rebaptism to those who relied on the law of Moses without having faith in Jesus Christ. Using this comparison, the Lord emphasized the need to let go of “dead” religious practices (D&C 22:3)—including baptisms performed without priesthood authority—that cannot save and to embrace the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel, just as early Jewish converts to Christianity needed to do.