D&C 20:1-36 “The Rise of the Church of Christ”
Section 20 may be considered our first church “handbook,” given within a few days after the April 6, 1830 formal organization of the Church, and containing various instructions relating to Church doctrine, laws, duties, ordinances, and administration.
Some point to verse 1 as evidence that Jesus Christ was born into mortality on April 6, 1 b.c. However, there are numerous points that cast doubt upon this conclusion, and the Church has not taken an official position on the date nor the year of Christ’s birth.
Verses 1-36 of Section 20 can be studied in blocks of verses, each separated by the word Amen:
- Verses 1-4: What interesting details do you see about the callings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery?
- Verses 5-12: What points do these verses add about the First Vision, the visits of Moroni, and the Book of Mormon?
- Verses 13-16: What happens to those who receive the Lord’s work? What happens to those who reject it?
- Verses 17-28: Make a list of the important truths we learn from the scriptures about the Godhead and Their work?
- Verses 29-36: Identify the doctrines related to the plan of salvation and our process in this plan.
D&C 20:22 He Gave No Heed
This verse teaches us that during His mortal life, Jesus Christ “suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.” We can assume that the Savior was tempted and tested more powerfully by Satan than any other soul who ever lived, yet He remained sinless—clean, innocent, and pure. Read also Hebrews 4:15; Mosiah 3:7; and Alma 7:11 regarding some of what Jesus endured. Consider also the following:
- Some people have taught that sin is necessary for us to learn and grow, but D&C 20:22 and the other foregoing scriptures clearly teach that Jesus grew and succeeded by resisting temptation.
- Lehi taught: “For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). Like the muscles in our bodies, we need opposition to become stronger. It is not “giving in” that helps us learn and grow, but resisting and opposing sin, just as Jesus did.
- When we sin—as we all do—repentance can help us learn and grow, but choosing to sin always causes a loss of spiritual light and strength, which we must then strive to recover. It is better to resist temptation than it is to sin and repent.
- Lehi also affirmed, “The Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16). Unlike sin, enticement (temptation) is needed for our growth, for it provides opposition (see also D&C 29:39).
D&C 20:29-31 Justification and Sanctification
After declaring faith, repentance, and enduring to the end (verse 29), the Lord states that “justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true” (verse 30) and then says the same regarding “sanctification” (verse 31).
What are the definitions of justification and sanctification? To be “justified” through the grace and atonement of Jesus Christ means that one is forgiven and free from guilt and punishment. But it is not enough. To become “sanctified” is to become pure, clean, and holy; being full of good works. It is not enough to turn from sin; we must also fill our lives with goodness and godliness (see also Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, June 2001).
D&C 20:37, 68-71 Baptism and Convert Retention
What things did the Lord say are expected of those who are to be baptized (verses 37, 71), and about what should happen after their baptism? (verses 68-70).
D&C 20:38-60 Priesthood Offices and Duties
Consider how the following priesthood duties are carried out today, and how they affect your life:
- To “watch over the church” (verses 42, 53).
- To “conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost” (verse 45).
- To “exhort [members] to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (verses 47, 51).
- To “be with and strengthen [the members]” (verse 53).
- To “see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking” (verse 54).
- To “invite all to come unto Christ” (verse 59).
What do you learn from these verses about being a faithful and helpful ministering brother or sister?
D&C 21:1-9 The Importance of a Living Prophet
This section was given to Joseph Smith in the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York on Tuesday, April 6, 1830, during the meeting in which the Church was organized. The meeting included a prayer, sustaining of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, a vote to organize the Church, the ordinations of Joseph and Oliver as elders of the Church, the ordinance of the sacrament, the ordinance of confirmation of the six previously-baptized men who participated in the organization of the Church, prophesying, then the receipt of Section 21. The six men were Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Jr., David Whitmer, Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Smith (a number of others were also present, observing the event).
The Lord revealed several important declarations, instructions, and promises:
- “There shall be a record kept among you” (verse 1). It is significant that this is the first commandment given to the newly-organized church. Perhaps no other religious organization on earth maintains records of members and events as fully and carefully as does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This instruction can also be taken to pertain to us as individual members of the Church. Do you have a “record” of your life and of your family?
- What do verses 1-2, 7-8 say about the Prophet Joseph Smith (and, by extension, about all latter-day prophets)?
In regards to our living prophet, the Lord commands us to:
- “Give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you” (verse 4).
- Receive his words “as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (verse 5).
“By doing these things” (verse 6), the Lord promises us extraordinary blessings:
- “The gates of hell shall not prevail against you” (verse 6).
- “The Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you” (verse 6).
- He will “cause the heavens to shake for your good” (verse 6).
- He will bless us to “believe on his [the Prophet’s] words,” especially his testimony of Christ (verse 9).
Ponder these four promised blessings for those who follow the Prophet. Can you think of times when these blessings have come to you?
D&C 22 Proper Authority
Just ten days after the Church was organized, the issue arose of whether a person baptized in another religion would need re-baptism into the restored church of Jesus Christ:
- What strong terms did the Lord use to describe baptisms (or other ordinances) that are performed without proper priesthood authority? (see verses 1-3).
- Seeking admission into the Lord’s true church based upon baptism in a former church is defined as seeking to “counsel” God (verse 4). In what other ways do we sometimes try to counsel God? (see also Jacob 4:10; 5:22).