Sunday, March 7, 2021

March 1-7: D&C 20-22

Section 20 is awesome. In just a few verses, it sets out the basic doctrines of the Church and then explains the basic organization and ordinances.

Here's the outline:

1–16, The Book of Mormon proves the divinity of the latter-day work;

17–28, The doctrines of creation, fall, atonement, and baptism are affirmed;

29–37, Laws governing repentance, justification, sanctification, and baptism are set forth;

38–67, Duties of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons are summarized;

68–74, Duties of members, blessing of children, and the mode of baptism are revealed;

75–84, Sacramental prayers and regulations governing Church membership are given.

(Doctrine and Covenants 20, Heading)

Let's look at the first few verses.

1 The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April—

This diagram is useful for remembering the relationships among Christ, the Church, and the people. We each have a direct, personal relationship with Christ. We have a related but separate relationship with the Church, the organization Christ established for all the reasons described in Section 20.

In this diagram I wrote "people" instead of "members" because the Light of Christ influences everyone, and because the Church is intended and designed to bless everyone on Earth. 

2 Which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church;

This verse refers specifically to the commandments to organize the Church, but it applies more generally to the commandments and revelations leading up to that organization. Here the Lord emphasizes that Joseph was called of God and ordained an apostle, which implicates the restoration of the Priesthood as well.

3 And to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, and ordained under his hand;

This verse is important for those who disregard what Oliver Cowdery said and did as an Apostle. Like Joseph, he too was called of God. 

4 And this according to the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory, both now and forever. Amen.

Here we have a reference to "grace" that, for various reasons, seemed to be overlooked for a long time among Latter-day Saints.  

5 After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;

This verse specifically refers to Joseph Smith, but it is reprised with a more general application in verses 32-34 below.

This passage refers to the First Vision, during which Joseph received a remission of his sins. The language alludes to 2 Peter 2:20 "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein...", substituting "vanities of the world" for "pollutions of the world."  

The phrase "vanities of the world" does not appear anywhere else in the scriptures. 

However, Jonathan Edwards used the phrase 9 times. In one sermon, he said, "the People of Christ and as those that have been with G. & have been Conversing with Christ & that & here we should walk as the Children of the light and of the day. we should take heed that we bent entangled in the Cares & vanities of this world that we dont set our hearts upon such things...

6 But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;

This refers to Moroni, whom both Joseph and Oliver described this way. Neither of them described Moroni as an old, portly man with a heavy beard in a wool suit and a knapsack on this back.

Here's Oliver's description from Letter IV.

"The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam."

7 And gave unto him commandments which inspired him;

The commandments Moroni gave Joseph are spelled out in a few places, including Letter IV.

8 And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;

Throughout their lives, Joseph and Oliver always said Joseph translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim, aka the Nephite interpreters, that came with the plates. The Book of Mormon itself explains that this was the instrument prepared for the translation of the plates. 

4 Behold, I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared.
5 Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord.
(Ether 4:4–5)

Obviously, Moroni did not seal up a stone Joseph found in a well.

9 Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;

The phrase "fallen people" occurs only in this verse and in four passages in the Book of Mormon, all in Alma. 

Here's how Moroni explained it to Joseph the first night:

"He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."

10 Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—

A reference to the Three Witnesses, presumably. No one else (other than Joseph) testified about the ministering of angels.

11 Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;

The Book of Mormon proves the truthfulness of the Bible (the "holy scriptures") by reiterating the historical reality of Biblical events.

3 And as I suppose that the first part of this record, which speaks concerning the creation of the world, and also of Adam, and an account from that time even to the great tower, and whatsoever things transpired among the children of men until that time, is had among the Jews—
4 Therefore I do not write those things which transpired from the days of Adam until that time; but they are had upon the plates; and whoso findeth them, the same will have power that he may get the full account.
(Ether 1:3–4)

[BTW, this passage leads me to infer that our Book of Moses came from the plates, a topic for another day.]

12 Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

The Book of Mormon explains that God speaks to all his children all around the world.

13 Therefore, having so great witnesses, by them shall the world be judged, even as many as shall hereafter come to a knowledge of this work.

The Bible and Book of Mormon both address the topic of judgment, although that is not emphasized in our modern world. But the passages speak for themselves.

14 And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life;

The phrase "crown of eternal life" appears in only one other passage in the scriptures:

Continue in these things even unto the end, and you shall have a crown of eternal life at the right hand of my Father, who is full of grace and truth.
(Doctrine and Covenants 66:12)

The phrase alludes to two New Testament verses:

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
(James 1:12)

10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
(Revelation 2:10)

Jonathan Edwards combined the concepts a few times.

for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. James 1:12 (The doctrine was that those who love Christ shall receive of him a crown of life. You have heard the explication of this doctrine in the forenoon, wherein we have told you who those are that love Christ and briefly described the crown that they shall receive: it is that eternal life, joy, beauty and glory with which they shall be crowned in the other world. 

(2) Love to Christ is spoken of as the general character of those to whom the promises of eternal life are made. So James 1:12, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him."

15 But those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation—

"harden their hearts" appears only once in the Bible (Exodus 11:20) but 24 times in the Book of Mormon and 5 times in the D&C.

16 For the Lord God has spoken it; and we, the elders of the church, have heard and bear witness to the words of the glorious Majesty on high, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Joseph and Oliver as the two elders of the Church at the time fulfilled the law of witnesses (2 or more witnesses).

17 By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;

The term "framer" is not found in the Bible. It's unique to this passage and it could lead to an entire lesson itself some day.

18 And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;

This passage, which is consistent with the Family Proclamation, was never controversial until the last few years.

19 And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

The commandments are for our benefit, not God's.

20 But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.

"Sensual and devilish" is unique to the Book of Mormon.

21 Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him.

This refers to the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

22 He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.

Giving no need to temptations is the example for us to follow.

23 He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day;

This is the essence of the gospel.

24 And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father;

Joseph once wrote, "The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, “that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;” and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.

25 That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved—

Again, enduring in faith.

26 Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life,

This is the doctrine that the Gospel was presented to Adam and Eve.

27 As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son;

The universal opportunity for salvation.

28 Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.

This is basic Christian doctrine, although people disagree on what it actually means.

29 And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

"Endure in faith" is a phrase unique to the D&C, where it appears three times. 

30 And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;

Justification is a topic that deserves a longer discussion.

31 And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.

Sanctification also deserves a longer discussion. 

32 But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God;

Joseph was an example of this when he fell into temptations after the First Vision.

33 Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation;

A warning for each of us.

34 Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.
(Doctrine and Covenants 20:1–34)

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