Relief Society Lesson #11: The Organization of the True and Living Church
As always, there are many more questions here than could be covered in one lesson, but I hope that teachers can find something useful to their particular wards, branches, and circumstances.
Section 1: From the Life of Joseph Smith
This section describes the translation and printing of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the church on April 6, 1830 according to the revelation found in D&C 20.
Wilfred Woodruff recorded a prophesy of Joseph Smith’s made at a priesthood meeting in Kirtland, Ohio in April of 1834:
[Joseph Smith said,] ‘I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it.’ I was rather surprised. He said, ‘It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.’
*Why do you think it was necessary for the Book of Mormon to be published before the church was established?
*What is the significance of Joseph Smith’s prophesy? Why is it so important to the church’s mission that the church fill the entire earth? How can we participate in that global mission, wherever we live and whatever our circumstances?
*In many places the church continues to be considered a “Utah” church, an “American” church, a “white” church, or a “middle-class” church. Sometimes we as members might unknowingly perpetuate these identifications of the church with a particular region, nationality, race, or class. How can we distinguish between Utah, American, white, or middle-class cultural practices and the gospel of Jesus Christ? How can we broaden the church’s regional and cultural identity to make it truly accessible to all? How can we avoid allowing our own cultural practices to impede the conversion and worship of others?
Section 2: The true Church of Jesus Christ was organized by Joseph Smith in the dispensation of the fulness of times.
In this section Joseph Smith describes some of the blessings poured out on the early church: “To find ourselves engaged in the very same order of things as observed by the holy Apostles of old; to realize the importance and solemnity of such proceedings; and to witness and feel with our own natural senses, the like glorious manifestations of the power of the Priesthood, the gifts and blessings of the Holy Ghost, and the goodness and condescension of a merciful God unto such as obey the everlasting Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, combined to create within us sensations of rapturous gratitude, and inspire us with fresh zeal and energy in the cause of truth.”
*How can weekly worship at church help us to experience the Spirit more fully in the way that Joseph Smith describes? How can church services inspire us with more gratitude for the gospel, more sense of God’s grace, and more “energy in the cause of truth”?
*What can we do to make our church attendance and worship more meaningful? What are some of the obstacles to meaningful worship?
*What are some of the obstacles to church attendance? What practical steps can we take during times when it’s difficult for us to go to church, for whatever reason? How can we establish meaningful (not “project”) relationships with those who aren’t currently attending church?
Section 3: Christ’s Church is organized according to the order of God.
*Why does the church have the hierarchical organization that it does, with the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles at the head? Why doesn’t every stake or ward simply operate independently? Why is a clear, transparent order of authority that prevails throughout the church so important?
*How have you seen the order of the church work in your own ward or branch, in the calling of a new bishop or Relief Society president? How has local church organization blessed your life, through the counseling of an inspired bishop or the insights of an inspired teacher, for example?
*How does the church order allow the work of the church to be efficiently organized? For example, how does the order of the church facilitate the kind of relief work the church was able to contribute after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina?
Section 4: The Church is led by the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Quorums of the Seventy.
*What is the significance of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and Quorums of the Seventy to all members of the church, even though they are physically remote from most of us?
*How have you gained a testimony of or exercised faith in their prophetic callings? How have you been blessed by general conferences, for example? What recent insights or counsel have been particularly meaningful to you in your life?
Section 5: Although the forces of evil may seek to destroy the Church, “no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.”
*How can we find comfort in the promises and prophesies about the church’s power over evil contained in this section? How has the church been a force for good in your own life or in the lives of those you know? How has membership in the church enriched your life or blessed you with spiritual gifts?
*How has the church helped you to overcome evil within yourself, to be strong in the face of temptation, to repent, or to become a better person? How have you seen the church change you or others through the grace of God?
Section 6: We each have the responsibility to strengthen the Church and do our part in building up the kingdom of God.
*How can we attain and act on the vision of church unity that Joseph Smith describes in this section? (see also 1 Corinthians 12). What practical things can we do to contribute to unity in our wards and branches? What practical things can we do during periods of institutional disunity or personal disaffection with the church (our own or that of someone we love)?
*The church’s view of callings is one of rotation (today’s stake president is tomorrow’s Primary teacher) rather than advancement in the hierarchy, as many other institutions are. How can we make sure we’re not importing ideas and desires about advancement into the church? While maintaining appropriate respect for office, how can we make sure that we treat all of our brothers and sisters equally? How can we avoid making excessive or unrealistic demands of those with highly visible callings? How can we avoid ignoring or looking down on those with “lesser” callings?
*How has your life been enriched by church service? Which callings have you held that have blessed you and helped you grow? What practical steps can we take if a calling becomes stifling or overwhelming?
*What are some simple ways we can build up the kingdom of God outside of our formal callings? For example, how can we support others in their callings? What kind of support have you received from church members in your callings that you’ve especially appreciated?