Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 20: Dying Without Law

D&C76:72-74 (Speaking of those in the terrestrial kingdom) - - These are they who died without law; And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.

D&C 137:7 - - All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God . . . .

So, what does it mean to "die without law?" If you reject the gospel in this life, do you get a "do-over" to get into the terrestrial kingdom? How do you square these two scriptures?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lesson 19: What Worked?

So, this week I tried a modified version of the "attention activity" suggested in the manual. I used a picture puzzle, but instead of using it to talk about understanding the whole plan, I used it to talk about how and when different pieces of the Plan of Salvation were revealed or otherwise learned by Joseph Smith. We talked about the creation, fall, free agency and inklings of premortality in the Book of Mormon, specific revelations in the D&C, and aspects of temple ordinances taught in Nauvoo. With each component of the plan, I showed a part of the puzzle. Then I talked about how our understanding of the Plan of Salvation followed the same pattern as the restoration generally. I think it made for an interesting discussion of how we now understand the "Plan."

What about you? How did you teach the lesson? What worked for you?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

When is a Plan not a Plan?

Class, the Teacher has been very busy at work lately. I realize that this post is coming too late to help anyone teaching the lesson tomorrow, and I apologize. I will try to do better in the future.

Lesson 19 is a little unusual in the Doctrine & Covenants curriculum in that, well, it does not really come from the Doctrine & Covenants. The lesson is on the Plan of Salvation, and while it quotes from the D&C, it contains a lot of material from other sources, including the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I got wondering about why this was and realized something about the Plan of Salvation that I had never really focused on before: The Plan of Salvation is the great framework of our belief system. But, it was never really presented to Joseph Smith as a framework. He did not receive a revelation on “The Plan of Salvation.” It was never presented to him (that we know of from his writings and statements) as a coherent system of doctrine. It was never presented as a plan.

Sure, the Book of Mormon talks about the plan of salvation (or happiness, or redemption, or mercy). But the “plan” in the BoM is about the fall and the atonement. There is a suggestion of some kind of premortality, because this “plan” was laid from the foundation of the world. The BoM also talks about foreordination (Alma 13), and certainly covers death, judgment and resurrection fully.

There are other sources of material for the the Plan of Salvation, too. When Joseph received the Book of Moses over a series of months in 1830, he learned a lot about the creation, the fall and the atonement. There was even a passing discussion of the War in Heaven and premortality. “The Vision” (Section 76, received in 1832) spells out the three degrees of glory, one of the defining characteristics of the LDS view of Salvation. Section 93 of the D&C (received in 1833) expressly states that “[m]an was also in the beginning with God,” making clear that we lived before we were born into mortality. The Book of Abraham, translated in 1835, provides details about the War in Heaven, the pre-existence and foreordination. Salvation of dead surfaces in 1836 with Section 136, and in the 1840s, when Joseph starts discussing baptism for the dead and temple work.

From all these disparate parts emerges a plan. At some point, Joseph perceived these mosaic pieces as the Plan of Salvation, “one of Heaven’s greatest gifts to mankind,” and taught that it “should occupy our strict attention.” (See Sunday School Manual at 106). This makes it all the more interesting to me that the Plan of Salvation came to us the way it did. A piece at time. Maybe line upon line?

I love the Plan of Salvation. It is one of those bedrock beliefs that is foundational to my world view. I would wager that most members of the Church feel that way. So, what do you make of this funny way of presenting The Plan? What does it say about revelation? About the restoration? About the Plan?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 19: The Plan of Salvation - - You Tell Me

This week's lesson is kind of interesting, in that it is not really tied to any specific section of the Doctrine & Covenants (Section 76 is the focus next week) or period in Church History. Instead, it focuses on the topic of the Plan of Salvation.

So, what are your favorite sources on the Plan of Salvation? What scriptures, articles, or talks do you think of when you think about this topic?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lesson 18: What Worked?

Here is your weekly chance to share your successes and stories. How did the lesson go? What captured your class' attention?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 18: Walking in Darkness at Noon-day

Lesson 18 focuses on the temple, and in terms of chronology, the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Much has been written of the great sacrifice required of the Kirtland saints in building the Temple, and of the amazing spiritual manifestations that accompanied its completion and dedication. Sections 109 and 110 of the Doctrine & Covenants are inspired and inspiring, representing some of the true pinnacles of the restoration.

But for me, at least this time through the D&C, section 95 has really caught my interest. The section begins with the Lord chastening the saints for their failure to construct the Temple as he had directed in Section 88. In fact, the Lord tells the Saints that their procrastination is a grievous sin. To put in perspective, Section 88 preceded Section 95 by little more than months. Not a long time, in the eternal scheme of things.

But the Lord grew impatient with and chastened the Saints. They lacked diligence and urgency building the His house. Contentions occurred among Church leaders. Members of the Church were disobedient and failed to keep the commandments. In a beautiful and poetic verse, the Lord tells Joseph that some of those ordained to build the Kingdom of God had “sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.” D&C 95:6.

What an image. Here they were, members of God’s restored church. They had new scripture and a prophet receiving revelation from Heaven. The members of the Church could have been enjoying a noon-day sun unknown to the world for hundreds of years. And yet they, surrounded by light, were walking in darkness because of their lack of focus, their disobedience, their selfishness and laziness.

It is easy to see how it happened. They were poor. It was winter and spring in Ohio - - not the ideal time to start a major construction project. They were trying to build Zion almost three states away in Missouri. The resources available to the Church and the Saints during this period were stretched to the breaking point. Building a Temple - - especially the Temple Joseph envisioned - - must have seemed overwhelming. Who can blame them for losing focus? Who would not have been tempted to wait for more favorable circumstances to start such a task?

But God chastened them because he loved them. Their grievous sin was choosing to stay in the darkness when he wanted them in His light. How often do we commit that same sin? In what ways to we choose to walk in our own darkness instead into the noon-day sun? Section 95 has given me a new insight into disobedience, sin and forgiveness. Whom the Lord loves he chastens because his joy is seeing us walk not in darkness, but in light.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 17: What Worked?

OK, after a minor controversy at GDU about whether new insights could be offered on tithing, tell us how it went. What did you talk about? Did you get into the definition of tithing in the 1830s vs. today? Did you resolve the gross vs. net problem?

Share you success stories here!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 17: Tithing . . . Again.

OK, help me out here. The lesson is on tithing. Don't get me wrong - - I am pro-tithing. But, what on earth are we all going to say that is new and interesting?

Oh, yeah. The lesson covers fasting, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 16: What Worked?

Here is your weekly opportunity to share your successes. Tell us what topics your class found interesting, what questions generated interesting discussion and what resources you used that enriched the lesson.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Section 59: Death, Babylon and the Abundant Life

One of the fascinating things about studying the Doctrine & Covenants is having relatively ready access to the historical context of the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith. For me, it is interesting to think about what was happening in the lives of the Prophet and the early Church members, and how that influenced the way they sought God and they way they understood what he spoke to them. In learning a bit about Section 59, it seems that there were at least three major dynamics influencing Joseph Smith’s thoughts. If I had to put name tags on these three influences, I guess I would say they were death, Babylon and the abundant life.

First, I think death was very much on Joseph’s mind when he received section 59. He had attended that day the funeral of a faithful sister, Polly Peck Knight. Polly Knight was one of the Colesville saints, and along with her husband Joseph, an early and constant supporter of the Prophet and the Restoration. She was quite ill when she left Ohio for Jackson County, and her strong desire was to see Zion and, if she were to die, be buried there. In fact, she died within days of arriving in Missouri, and her passing must have poignant for Joseph Smith. It certainly makes verse 2 poignant to me:

For those that live shall inherit the earth and those that die shall rest from
their labors, and their works shall follow them; and they shall receive a crown
in the mansions of my Father, which I have prepared from them.

Joseph was also struck by societal conditions in Jackson County in August 1831. Most Church members at this point were relatively civilized New Englanders. Suddenly, they were living on the frontier, neighbors to a pretty rough crowd. Law, order and genteel society were not the hallmarks of Jackson County. Joseph and many of the members of the Church were somewhat taken aback by conditions and the people there. My guess is, Joseph was wondering how he was going to build God’s Kingdom - - Zion - - in the middle of Babylon. How would he keep the Saints unspotted from the world around them? One answer came in Section 59 and the instruction to set aside a day for holiness and recommitment to God’s service. See verses 9-10.

Finally, Joseph was pretty enchanted with the land itself in Jackson County. He described the area almost as a literal paradise, where crops and herds raised themselves, surrounded by natural beauty. The last third of section 59 reflects Joseph’s feeling that Zion would be a place where the saints would live an abundant life, enjoying the earthly blessings that God had designed for them. “The fullness of the earth is yours,” the revelation states, “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.” See verses 16, 18-19.

What else do you see? What connections are there in Section 59 to these influences and themes? Are there other influences you find in this section?

(Much of the background for this post comes from Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, chap. 8, and Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants, pp. 207-09).