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Lesson 3 Teacher Material: Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge
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“Lesson 3 Teacher Material: Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)

“Lesson 3 Teacher Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material

Lesson 3 Teacher Material

Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge

The Lord has revealed principles that can guide us in our search for truth (see “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Doctrinal Mastery Core Document [2018]). This lesson will increase students’ capacity to apply principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge and assessing the reliability of sources.

IMPROVING OUR TEACHING AND LEARNING

Communicate student learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are statements defining what knowledge and skills students should be able to learn from an educational experience. Outcomes for each lesson in this course are specified in the lesson introduction. Feel free to communicate these outcomes to students. Let the lesson outcomes help guide you as you adapt lesson material and assess the success of the students’ learning experience.

Suggestions for Teaching

The Lord has provided a pattern to acquire spiritual knowledge.

Display the following questions: Is it okay to have questions about the Church? Why or why not? Invite two or three students to share their thoughts.

As a class, read Joseph Smith—History 1:8–10, looking for words or phrases that Joseph used to describe his religious questions and concerns. Invite students to share what they found and what they learn about asking questions from Joseph’s account.

Write the following statement on the board: I can acquire spiritual knowledge as I …

Ask students to identify the three principles from the preparation materials that complete this statement. As students respond, ensure the following principles are identified and displayed:

  1. Act in faith.

  2. Examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective.

  3. Seek further understanding through divinely appointed sources.

Ask students to explain what they understand about each of these principles. If needed, provide a little time for them to review the preparation material.

Invite students to read Joseph Smith—History 1:11–14, looking for how Joseph Smith’s actions illustrated these principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge as he sought answers to his questions and concerns. Invite students to share what they learned.

Select and display one or more of the questions you received from students to which they could apply the principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge (see the “Record Your Thoughts” activity in section 1 of the preparation material). Explain that while you will be able to use only a few of the submitted questions during this class, you will look for places later on in the course curriculum to address the other questions you have received.

Note: The purpose of this activity is to allow students a chance to talk about how they would apply the principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge to various questions. It is not intended to provide answers to the specific questions. Be careful not to get stuck in the details of a question or issue.

Discuss how students would use the principles displayed on the board to seek answers to the selected question or questions. The follow-up questions below could be part of your discussion:

  • How could we act in faith as we seek an answer to this question?

  • How could an eternal perspective help us answer this question? What do we know about Heavenly Father and His plan of salvation that could help us see this question from an eternal perspective?

  • What divinely appointed sources could help us better understand this topic? What other reliable sources could help? (Note: It may be beneficial to take students to the Gospel Topics page at ChurchofJesusChrist.org to demonstrate a reliable source that also points to scripture links and prophetic talks.)

Invite a student or two to share how the three principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge have blessed them in their search for spiritual knowledge.

We can evaluate the reliability of sources.

Show a portion of the video “Divinely Appointed Sources” (time codes 0:00 to 4:19).

Invite students to watch for what kinds of sources of information are most reliable and which have the potential to damage our understanding of truth.

After you pause the video, consider asking some questions like the following to help students consider the differences between divine sources, reliable sources, and unreliable or even destructive sources:

  • What are the purest sources from which we can seek answers?

  • How do you discern whether a source of information is reliable or not?

  • What do you do when you come across sources of information that are intended to destroy faith?

To demonstrate the importance of using reliable sources when studying Church history, invite students to imagine the following situation: You are seeking more information about the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. In your search you come across the following statement by Stephen Burnett, who lived at the same time as Martin Harris, and you’re not sure if the statement is true or not:

I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church and weighed the evidence for and against it. … But when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination, [nor] Oliver nor David … the last pedestal gave way. (Stephen Burnett, in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses [1981], 155)

  • What steps could you take before deciding whether or not to accept Stephen Burnett’s claim about Martin Harris?

Invite students to report what they learned about evaluating sources from the section of the preparation material called “Questions for Evaluating Sources.”

With these guidelines for evaluating sources in mind, provide students the handout “Historical Background on Stephen Burnett’s Statement,” and invite students (as a class or in small groups) to look for information that would help them assess the credibility of Stephen Burnett’s accusation that Martin Harris didn’t see the gold plates.

Historical Background on Stephen Burnett’s Statement

Stephen Burnett joined the Church in 1830 and was ordained an elder in 1831. He served missions in the Eastern United States between 1832 and 1834 (see “Burnett, Stephen,” The Joseph Smith Papers, interim content). By 1838 he had left the Church and thought it was a “whole scene of lying and deception.”

While Burnett personally knew Martin Harris, he was not one of the Three or Eight Witnesses.

In 1838, Burnett wrote a letter in which he claimed that Martin Harris said “he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination.” Burnett wrote that three other people “concurred” with his account. These three people had also left the Church.

Martin Harris strongly objected to how Burnett described his testimony and continued to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon throughout his life.

In contrast to Burnett’s account, the “agreement of many interviews with Martin Harris proves that his [Harris’s] intense certainty never varied from his vision of the angel and the plates in 1829 to the moment of his death in 1875.” In a private letter written in 1871, Harris declared, “No man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates, nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses [1981], 107–20, 155–57).

Historical Background on Stephen Burnett’s Statement

Foundations of the Restoration Course Teacher Material (Religion 225) - 2020

After students have had sufficient time to read and discuss the handout, ask the following questions:

  • What information from this handout calls into question the reliability of Stephen Burnett’s statement?

  • In addition to testing the credibility of sources, how else could you find out if the testimony of the Three Witnesses is true?

Invite students to share what they have learned from this experience. Consider ending class by showing the rest of the video “Divinely Appointed Sources” (time codes 4:20 to 9:16) and sharing your testimony of the value of applying the principles of acquiring spiritual knowledge.

For Next Time

Ask students if they have ever struggled to recognize when the Lord was speaking to them or if they have ever wanted to know how to better receive personal revelation and guidance in their lives. Invite them to carefully study the preparation material for the next lesson on the doctrine of revelation and to come prepared to share in class what they discovered.