Relief Society Lesson 38: The Wentworth Letter
by Kelly Ann
THIS IS OF COURSE JUST ONE OF MANY WAYS THE LESSON COULD BE PRESENTED. MY GOAL IS TO COVER ALL SECTIONS AND DISCUSS BASIC BELIEFS AND HISTORY AND GENERATE DISCUSSION IN TUNE WITH THE THEMES.
Start by asking the class how they would summarize the church beliefs to an inquirer. Ask someone if they can recite the Articles of Faith (see Articles of Faith 1:1–13).
Discuss the following questions: What are their purpose? How have they helped individuals personally? Why are primary children are asked to memorize them? Do they over-simplify the teachings of the church? Is there anything anyone finds odd in the fundamental doctrines and principles? Do they all focus on Christ?
Ask if anyone has ever used them to answer an inquirer’s questions about the church
I had the following experience with them.
When I was in Elementary school, I was asked by my best friend, the daughter of a Baptist minister to summarize what I believed. Having recently memorized the articles of faith, I started to spout a few out. After which, she stopped me and asked me to tell her what I personally believed. While I didn’t need to quote the articles of faith verbatim, I realized if I wanted to cover everything (it was a fairly intense discussion we both had prepared for), they served as my base. Although the first four were all about I could really digest as a kid.
The Wentworth letter including the Articles of Faith is Joseph Smith’s response to a request from John Wentworth and George Barstow to discuss the beliefs of the church.
“In the Times and Seasons issue dated March 1, 1842, the Prophet published what has come to be known as the Wentworth Letter. Describing his reasons for producing this document, the Prophet explained: “At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, Editor and Proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says that he wishes to furnish Mr. [George] Barstow, a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Barstow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.”2
George Barstow ultimately did not include the Prophet’s account in his history because he decided to cover events only through the year 1819 in his book.3 But the Wentworth Letter has immense value to Latter-day Saints. It is an original account by Joseph Smith testifying of his sacred call from God, his visions, and his ministry and teachings. It recounts the rise and growth of the Church and the persecutions of the Saints. It contains a prophetic declaration of the Church’s future success in the earth under the protective hand of the Great Jehovah. It also contains several important details not found elsewhere in the Prophet’s teachings, including a description of the gold plates and a sketch of the contents of the Book of Mormon. Significantly, it is the first time that Joseph Smith himself published an account of his First Vision.
Concluding with the 13 declarations of Church doctrine now called the Articles of Faith, it stands as a powerful witness of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. “
What can we learn from Joseph Smith’s words in the Wentworth Letter about how to respond to such questions? Discuss the core doctrines (besides the articles of faith).
Discuss what the Prophet said about his First Vision and Book of Mormon..
God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer.
“Believing the word of God, I had confidence in the declaration of James—‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.’ [James 1:5.] I retired to a secret place in a grove, and began to call upon the Lord; while fervently engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon day. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as His Church and kingdom: and I was expressly commanded ‘to go not after them,’ at the same time receiving a promise that the fullness of the Gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.
The Book of Mormon was written anciently upon gold plates and delivered to Joseph Smith by a divinely sent messenger.
“… This book … tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent; that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions; that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgment of their prophecies, history, etc., and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the Bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days. For a more particular account I would refer to the Book of Mormon, which can be purchased at Nauvoo, or from any of our Traveling Elders.
“As soon as the news of this discovery was made known, false reports, misrepresentation and slander flew, as on the wings of the wind, in every direction; the house was frequently beset by mobs and evil designing persons. Several times I was shot at, and very narrowly escaped, and every device was made use of to get the plates away from me; but the power and blessing of God attended me, and several began to believe my testimony.
How do you relate the story of the First Vision and coming forth of the Book of Mormon to others? What are the significance of Joseph Smith’s tellings of his visions and work? How does one interpret the multiple accounts? What have these stories meant in your life? What are ways we can share these stories without being overbearing? How do people usually react to tellings (including such off the wall portrayals as the South Park episode)? What do you glean from the Wentworth’s letter accounts.
Joseph Smith also gives a brief history of the beginnings of the Church and then testifies of the Church’s destiny.
Although persecution may rage against the Church, nothing can stop the progress of truth.
“Persecution has not stopped the progress of truth, but has only added fuel to the flame, it has spread with increasing rapidity. Proud of the cause which they have espoused, and conscious of our innocence, and of the truth of their system, amidst calumny and reproach, have the Elders of this Church gone forth, and planted the Gospel in almost every state in the Union; it has penetrated our cities, it has spread over our villages, and has caused thousands of our intelligent, noble, and patriotic citizens to obey its divine mandates, and be governed by its sacred truths. It has also spread into England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, where, in the year 1840, a few of our missionaries were sent, and over five thousand joined the Standard of Truth; there are numbers now joining in every land.
Discuss the following:. How do you think persecution affects the churches growth? Why do you think persecution is unable to stop the Church’s progress? What are some examples of people progressing despite opposition? Why do you think this statement was tied into the description of the core beliefs of the church? What do you think Joseph Smith wanted to accomplish with the Wentworth letter? Why do you think he ended with the Articles of Faith? Is it more important to understand the core history or the core beliefs or both? How does the Wentworth letter help you share your beliefs with others?