Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How do we keep from usurping authority in the church?

This is one thing that is of concern to me because I want to explore doctrine and learn from the scriptures and learn from other members both at church and help other people learn, and I don’t want take honor and glory to myself or become a false prophet or deceive or lead others astray. I want to know what I should not do to keep myself firmly in the right.

In my scripture study recently, I ran across some scriptures that seemed to help clarify this.

2 For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye have received a commandment for a law unto my church, through him [the prophet] whom I have appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations from my hand.

3 And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me. (D&C 43:2-3, emphasis added)

5 And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments;

6 And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. (D&C 43:5-6)

Okay, so this shows me that none of us except the prophet can

  • Give revelations for the whole church or
  • Give commandments for the whole church

So what can we do?

8 And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given.

9 And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me— (D&C 43:8-9, emphasis added)

We can:

  • instruct and
  • edify each other

so that we learn how to:

  • Act and direct the church and
  • Act on the points of the Lord’s law and commandments already given

We have to obey the commandments that we’ve got.

When I think of receiving and giving instruction and edification about the law, I often think of Relief Society meetings when the teacher asks the class something like, “How can we teach our children to love and serve one another?” after which everyone chimes in with ways and techniques they have worked out. (And even though I don’t have children, I chime in with ways that my parents tried teach me and my siblings and share how it had an impact on me.) In this case, the teacher has called the class’s attention to the well-known commandment to teach their children and is focusing on how to teach the specific principles of love and service. Everyone shares the different ways they have tried to fulfill this commandment and everyone listens for something they can learn to do that will help them fulfill the commandment more effectively. Instruction and edification is about enlarging our vision of various ways we can act upon the general revelations and commandments we have already been given.

Let’s look at some scriptures about instruction to see if we can find anything else.


And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. (2 Nephi 2:5)

One of the ways we instruct each other is by helping each other understand the difference between good and evil. We need to know WHAT is good and WHY it is good. We need to know WHAT is bad and WHY it is bad. One of the things that I always appreciated about my parents is that when we kids did something wrong (or even borderline wrong), they didn’t just tell me to stop, they told me why.

This is a tiny example, but I remember when I was a kid, I somehow started saying “Jeez” as an exclamation. I remember I was with my dad while he was working on something at his workbench in the basement and he turned to me and said, “Michaela, ‘Jeez’ is not a good thing to say. It is a shortened version of ‘Jesus’. If you say that, you are taking the Lord’s name in vain.” I still remember the jolt that bit of information gave my young mind. I never used it again after that. The instruction to stop was effective for me because it was connected with an important commandment and principle.

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; (D&C 88:77-78)

The instruction to “teach diligently” is coupled with the promise of grace and being instructed more perfectly. Most of us have seen this occur when we have been asked to give a lesson or a talk. As we have researched and pondered and prayed and written our thoughts, and searched the scriptures and the conference talks relating to the topic given to us, we have truly come to know more perfectly all those things—theory, principle, doctrine, gospel law, things about the kingdom of God. We find ourselves practically swimming in it all and we are challenged by the necessity of cutting it down to fit the time. (The Spirit has to help us distill the parts that will best help our listeners.) This is why teachers and speakers say they “learned far more than the listeners.” It’s not often that I get a chance to participate in this immersing preparatory learning process before teaching gospel lessons at church because I get to substitute-teach only rarely, but happily, I experience this as I am putting together many of my blog posts. Writing these blog posts is always an important learning experience for me.

And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed (D&C 1:26)

This scripture has extremely practical implications for both teachers and learners because both teachers and learners approach lessons wanting to learn things. Teachers want to learn how they can best teach the lesson. Class members want to get something from the lesson that can help them in their lives.

The above scripture puts the responsibility firmly on us all. No longer can we sit back during lessons, complacent in our knowledge. No longer can we assume we know everything about what must be taught. That little verse tells us we receive instruction inasmuch (proportional to) our search for wisdom. If we’re not seeking, we aren’t going to be learning. In fact, the more we have been instructed, the more we should be seeking. I freely admit that as a learner, I find myself the most bored during lessons that I haven’t put forth the effort to study ahead of time.

Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. (Matthew 13:52)

I was puzzling over this particular verse and I asked Heavenly Father to help me understand it better and just as I was about to write what I thought it meant, something happened. Two boys who lived next door came to the door asking for pennies they could take to school and give for charity. We had saved pennies in a jar, so I gave them to them. Then I sat back down to ponder this scripture and realized that what had just happened seemed very similar to what I was pondering. I was a householder, and I had brought out part of my treasure, pennies I’d had for a long time and pennies that I’d recently collected.

This incident became an object lesson to me that taught that when we are instructing, we bring out when it is needed--wisdom we’ve treasured up for a long time not knowing why and wisdom that we’ve recently acquired. It doesn’t much matter whether it is old or new if it is what is needed at the time. It does the job and it is all treasure, no matter how small or basic.

And the Book of Mormon and the holy scriptures are given of me for your instruction… (D&C 33:16)

This shows us that if we use the scriptures heavily when we instruct each other, we will be more helpful to each other, since that’s why God gave them in the first place. There is a simplicity and power in the scriptures unmatched by other moralizing writings.

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

This shows us that the scriptures contain:

  • Doctrine (they tell us who to believe in and what to believe)
  • reproof (they tell us what we are doing wrong)
  • correction (they tell us what we should be doing instead)
  • instruction in righteousness (they tell us how to do it and why)

All of this is given to us to guide us toward perfection, so that we can be like Christ and be equipped and capable of doing every good work that exists. The scriptures furnish us with the tools for all of this.

One example of a way that a scripture has furnished me for good works is something I learned about prayer. I noticed in 3 Nephi in the account of Christ’s coming that He prayed for the multitude and they were filled with joy because of what He said. I decided that I should try this when I went visiting teaching. During my visits I would try to pick out from the conversation specific things that my sisters were struggling with and in my prayer at the end, I would pray about those things for them and get very specific as I requested blessings for them. I have seen miracles occur in their lives because of those prayers. Our hearts have been knit together because they feel I care when I plead for them to Heavenly Father. I probably would not have thought to try doing this if I hadn’t found it in the scriptures.


My dictionary widget says that to edify means to “instruct or improve (someone) morally and intellectually.” It means that we build them up.

…Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. (1 Cor. 8:1)

This scripture is a great guide for teachers. It says that if we are just telling what we know to show how smart we are, we will come off sounding arrogant and puffed up. But if we tell what we know out of love and concern for our listener, it will edify them and build them up.

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)

For many people, speaking and writing is only about self-expression. However, this scripture shows us that the effect we have on our audience is just as important. We can corrupt, or we can edify. It is interesting that Paul puts edification as the opposite of corruption. If this is so, then edification becomes synonymous with purification, as it “ministers grace,” which means that power from God has been given where it was needed.

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. (1 Cor. 10:23)

This shows us that when we are instructing, there may be things that are lawful (allowed), but which don’t necessarily edify. If we are seeking to edify and to be edified, that is going to put our communications on a higher level than just being concerned about what’s allowed and what’s not.

22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:22-23)

This tells us that edification is marked by understanding and rejoicing. It also tells us that unity between teacher and learner increases when edification is occurring because they both understand one another and both rejoice together. Something that edifies is of God and is light, whereas something that doesn’t edify is not of God and is darkness.

Seeking edification is very important to me. When I’m reading something, I’m always looking for the places where the writer seems to make things clear. I try to notice when the writer seems to be building reasoning up to a point and I look for that point. I can tell when a writer seems to be putting tons of embroidery on their writing, using up paragraphs when a single sentence would be fine. You probably can too. A little bit can make it fun, but too much is a waste of time. My major goal in this blog has always been to edify, to give my readers as much substance as I possibly can. Our time is limited and there are so many voices competing for our attention that not only do we want to choose the best, but we should be striving to be our best.

And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also. (D&C 84:106, emphasis added)

This shows us that edification occurs when we are meek. And once we are edified, we are stronger than we were before. I’ve observed that the best edification occurs when both the teacher and the learner are meek.

When I was growing up, there were times when I needed to be disciplined. One of the major ways that my mom taught me was by telling me stories from her life when she had troubles with the same issues. She told me how the Holy Ghost had taught her important principles to correct her and how she obeyed and had been blessed. I gained a lot of respect for my mom’s integrity through those stories and they became an inspiration to me as I tried to change. She demonstrated her meekness as a teacher by sharing those stories because they showed me that she once had those same faults. Listening to stories about her took the focus off me and my bad behavior so I felt safe and free enough to learn from her experience. When I felt safe during the conversation, my heart was soft enough that the Spirit could convince me that I needed to repent and change. So my mom’s meekness contributed to my meekness. Having learned from her, I became willing to change.

Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege. (D&C 88:122, emphasis added)

Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect. (D&C 84:110)

This shows us that the participation of every member in the general edification of the church can keep the system perfect. I’ve noticed that when enough people in a church class comment on a principle, the perspective on it widens and widens and it becomes more difficult for teachings to be taken out of context and skewed.

…we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. (2 Cor. 12:19, emphasis added)

This shows us that not just our words can edify, but our deeds can too, when they provide good examples.

Blessings promised for edifying and instructing each other

The blessings of edifying and instructing each other can be found after the command for the members to instruct and edify each other.

9 And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me—

10 That inasmuch as ye do this, glory shall be added to the kingdom which ye have received. Inasmuch as ye do it not, it shall be taken, even that which ye have received. (D&C 43:9-10)

Each person that works to edify and instruct others will be edified and instructed themselves in the law of Christ’s church. (One big place I have seen this promise fulfilled is when I go visiting teaching. No matter how prepared to teach I am, in the end, I always feel that I have been taught more by those I visit.) Another promise in these verses is that we will be sanctified by what we receive. This happens as we realize what we need to repent of and then pray for forgiveness. Christ’s Atonement will cleanse us.

We will bind ourselves to act in holiness, meaning that we will commit to obey. In the eternities, this adds glory to our kingdoms that we will inherit, which I associate with the promise that light cleaves to light. We are also told that the glory of God is intelligence, which is light and truth, so if we receive and obey light and truth, we increase our intelligence toward the goal of becoming like God.

In summary, we’ve learned:

  1. We are not to give revelation and commandment to the church, but we are to instruct and edify each other.
  2. We have to learn the what, why, and how of the commandments.
  3. If we teach diligently, we’ll be instructed more perfectly.
  4. The more we seek wisdom, the more we will be instructed.
  5. When we teach, we use what we’ve known for a long time AND what we’ve just learned.
  6. The scriptures prepare us for perfection with doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction.
  7. Teaching out of love to benefit others will edify them. (Teaching to show off will not.)
  8. Edifying words bring hearers to sanctification.
  9. Not everything that is allowed will be edifying.
  10. When edification occurs, teacher and learners understand each other and rejoice together.
  11. What comes from God is light and edifies.
  12. Meekness prepares us to be edified.
  13. When we are edified, we become strong.
  14. We all need to edify each other to keep the system perfect.
  15. Good deeds can edify.
  16. We can be sanctified by what we have received through instruction.
  17. Edification binds us to act in holiness.
  18. Acting in holiness adds glory to our kingdom.

Have you seen those promises fulfilled in your life? If so, how?