Beginning with the 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the book no longer contained what was called the ‘Lectures on Theology’ and later the ‘Lecture on Faith.’ I thought it would be of interest to briefly recap some of the aspects of this change to our inspired standard works. As a reference point, I have scanned the first pages of the two major sections of an 1898 edition of the D&C. You see below that the first section was composed of the Lectures on Faith with a header noting the Lectures focused “on the Doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, originally delivered before a Class of the Elders, in Kirtland, Ohio.”
The next major component of the book contains the sections as we would expect in the D&C. As you can see, this second part of the book is called the “Covenants and Commandments of the Lord, to his servants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The words ‘covenants’ and ‘commandments’ are then found at the top of all pages in this segment of the book while the first segment has ‘lectures on faith’ across the top of each page.
So, why would it be acceptable to include the Lectures on Faith in the Doctrine and Covenants for 86 years, but then remove the information? FAIR has summarized the church’s viewpoint on this matter here.
From an historical perspective, the effort began in September 24, 1834 as noted in the minutes of the High Council meeting at Kirtland:
The council then proceeded to appoint a committee to arrange the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, for the government of the Church of Latter-day Saints, which Church was organized and commenced its rise on the 6th of April, 1830. These items are to be taken from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the revelations which have been given to the Church up to this date, or that shall be given until such arrangements are made.” (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts, 2:, p.165)
This committee was composed of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams. Little is known about the activities of this committee but one can find a reference to Joseph Smith activities subsequent to the formation of the committee in this diary note:
January, 1835.-During the month of January, I was engaged in the school of the Elders, and in preparing the lectures on theology for publication in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, which the committee appointed last September were now compiling. (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts, 2:, p.180)
It appears from this entry that it was clearly Joseph’s intent to include the lectures in the replacement for the Book of Commandments to be known as the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.
On August 17th, 1835, a general assembly of the church was held at Kirtland. The main purpose of the meeting was to ‘take into consideration the labors of a committee appointed by a general assembly of the Church on the 24th of September, 1834, for the purpose of arranging the items of doctrine of Jesus Christ for the government of the Church.’ The full text of the report on this meeting is found In the History of the Church, vol. 2, pages 243-246; I will attempt to summarize the proceedings.
The assembly of the church was presented with the proposal to include the ‘lectures on theology’ and the assembled revelations in the new Doctrine and Covenants. The first recorded pronouncement came from W. W. Phelps who ‘bore record that the book presented to the assembly was true.’ Other members and quorums followed suit with a similar witness acknowledging the proposal ‘as the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by unanimous vote.’
Elder John Smith, speaking for the High Council in Kirtland ‘bore record that the revelations in said book were true, and that the lectures were judiciously arranged and compiled, and were profitable for doctrine.’
The testimony of the twelve was also recorded ‘that these Commandments were given by the inspiration of God, and are profitable for all men, and are verily true.’
The report ends with this statement. ‘The several authorities and the general assembly, by a unanimous vote, accepted the labors of the committee.
The Doctrine and Covenants was then published later that year, 1835, and contained the following description of it contents addressed to the members of the church in the preface:
Dear Brethren: We deem it unnecessary to entertain you with a lengthy preface to the following volume, but merely to say that it contains in short the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe.
The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of lectures as delivered before a theological class in this place, and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we have arranged them in the following work.
The second part contains items or principles for the regulation of the church as taken from the revelations which have been given since its organization, as well as former ones.
At first glance, the two parts discussed would seem to carry at least equal weight. In the first part, we are presented with material describing the ‘important doctrine of salvation’ while the second part contains ‘principles for the regulation of the church.’
While the Lectures on Faith remained in the Doctrine and Covenants for more than 8 decades, there appears to be some concern for their placement as summarized by the following footnote from the History of the Church written by B. H. Roberts:
These “Lectures on Theology” here referred to were afterwards prepared by the Prophet, (see page 180) and published in the Doctrine and Covenants under the title “Lectures on Faith.” They are seven in number, and occupy the first seventy-five pages in the current editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. They are not to be regarded as of equal authority in matters of doctrine with the revelations of God in the Doctrine and Covenants, but as stated by Elder John Smith, who, when the book of Doctrine and Covenants was submitted to the several quorums of the Priesthood for acceptance, (August 17, 1835,) speaking in behalf of the Kirtland High Council, “bore record that the revelations in said book were true, and that the lectures judicially were written and compiled, and were profitable for doctrine.” The distinction which Elder John Smith here makes should be observed as a marking the difference between the Lectures on Faith and the revelations of God in the Doctrine and Covenants. (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts, 2:, p.178)
Under the direction of Heber J. Grant, the 1921 Doctrine and Covenants was published without the Lectures. The following comment can be found in that edition:
While this seems to be a technicality, I would submit that the Lectures on Faith were indeed accepted by the assembly of the church as representing the doctrine of their faith. The original directive was to capture ‘items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, for the government of the Church of Latter-day Saints.’ B.H. Roberts then rejects the Lectures because they weren’t revelation? So can I assume that the definition of revelation could easily cover both the pronouncements appended to ‘thus saith the Lord’ as well as those inspired documents developed for the education of our missionaries, especially when it is directed by Joseph Smith? Are the words found in the Lectures on Faith no longer considered to be the ‘doctrine of our faith’ as they were presented in 1835?
I find it interesting that the section of the original Doctrine and Covenants which was pronounced to be ’embracing the important doctrine of salvation’ was demoted while the section pertaining to the principles for the regulation of the church’ remained intact. Which of these two topics would you consider more valuable?
What has really happened here? Seventy-five pages of material that Joseph Smith intended to be included in the Doctrine and Covenants are summarily discarded from the Book seventy-seven years after his death. Was the exclusion of the Lectures ever put to a vote by the assembly of the church? I can find no record of this event. On the other hand, I have submitted above the record of the general assembly of the church accepting the contents of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as true. Did Heber J. Grant have the authority to ‘trump’ the intention of Joseph Smith to include the Lectures on Theology in the sanctioned scripture of the Church?
Did this change that occurred more than 80 years ago represent a step closer to the true doctrines of the kingdom? Have you considered reading and studying the Lectures on Faith as the pronouncement from Joseph Smith as being important for our salvation?
Perhaps I should offer my opinion. I have no doubt that Joseph Smith was called to restore the fulness of the gospel as found in the Book of Mormon. Along with that charge, he was to establish an organization to assist in the teaching of the gospel. I believe that he was given a reasonably wide degree of freedom in how to achieve that. The development of the original Doctrine and Covenants was Joseph’s best idea at the time to give the members a glimpse into the theology as he understood it in 1835.
I do consider the Lectures on Faith as a valuable source for insights that Joseph and Sidney received through the variety of spiritual experiences they received. It also contains some ideas that appear to conflict with the current view. As such, it is for me a springboard for forming questions and aids in my search for understanding faith and truth. I agree with the assembly that voted to accept the Doctrine and Covenants as defined by Joseph, Oliver, Sidney, and Frederick as representing the doctrines and commandments needed for the administration of the church. Should the 1921 Doctrine and Covenants have been ‘stripped’ of its doctrine? I think we lost something in the process.
What think ye?