Doctrine & Covenants Lesson 50 (AOF and Official Declarations 1 & 2)
THE WENTWORTH LETTER
In March 1842, John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, asked Joseph for a brief history of the Church and a statement of its beliefs. The letter contained the first published account of the prophet’s early spiritual experiences and concluded with thirteen statements of belief that are now known as the Articles of Faith.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, Editor and Proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says that he wishes to furnish Mr. Bastow, a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.”1
Elder B. H. Roberts said of the Articles of Faith, “The ‘Wentworth Letter’ is one of the choicest documents in our Church literature. . . . In it [we have] in . . . less than six . . . pages a remarkably full history of the . . . Church, and an epitome of her doctrines, from the beginning (the birth of the Prophet, 1805) up to the date of publication, March, 1842, a period of thirty-six years. The epitome of the doctrines of the Church, since called ‘The Articles of Faith,’ and published by millions, has been carried to all the nations of the earth and tribes of men where the gospel has been preached.”2
● The Wentworth Letter speaks boldly of the ultimate destiny of the Church:
The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in that letter, “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”3
THE ARTICLES OF FAITH
● In the Wentworth Letter, the Prophet Joseph Smith summarized the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints into thirteen basic statements that have come to be known as the Articles of Faith.
● The Articles of Faith answered many of the pressing religious questions of Joseph Smith’s day:
— Did spiritual gifts end with the ancient Apostles? (Article 7)
— Must we conform to the organization of the New Testament Church? (Article 6)
— How is a man authorized to act as a minister? (Article 5)
— Who will be saved? Are some predestined to salvation? (Article 3)
— Is mankind lost because of “original sin”? (Article 2)
— Are outward acts such as baptism necessary for salvation? (Article 4).
● Similarly, the Articles of Faith shed light on religious questions of our own day:
— Is there a god? (Article 1)
— Can we sin, or is everything relative? (Article 2)
— Was Christ more than a moral teacher? (Article 3)
— Is membership in one Church more valid than another? (Article 5)
— Is there a pattern by which to organize the Church? (Article 6)
— Is “civil disobedience” a proper means of protesting unpopular laws? (Article 12).
● Today, we accept the Articles of Faith as part of our official standard works because they are included in the Pearl of Great Price.
— 1851 The Pearl of Great Price first appeared as a collection of choice materials published for the benefit of the Saints in Britain.
— 1878 A revision of this compilation was made by Orson Pratt. This revision of the Pearl of Great Price, including the Articles of Faith, was approved as one of the Church’s standard works of scripture by the 50th Semiannual General conference on 10 October 1880.
President Harold B. Lee said, “Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve once told of a discussion he had with a group of stake officers. In the course of the discussion, someone said to him, ‘Brother Widtsoe, how long has it been since the Church received a revelation?’ Brother Widtsoe rubbed his chin thoughtfully and said in reply, ‘Oh, probably since last Thursday.”4
President Ezra Taft Benson once listed “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” Some of those points underline the importance of continuing revelation in the Church through the living prophet of God: Point 2: “The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works. Point 3: “The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” Point 9: “The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.”5
President Spencer W. Kimball testified that the Church continually receives revelation:
“We testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain those revelations which come month to month and day-to-day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord.
“Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, a light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half, there has been no interruption.”6
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Whenever the Lord has had a people on earth, they have received revelation from appointed prophets, apostles, and seers. If at any time they ceased to receive revelation, they ceased to be the Lord’s people. This has been the unvarying course from Adam to the present moment. The receipt of revelation is one of the chief identifying characteristics of the true saints; where there are saints there is revelation, and where there is no revelation the Saints of the Most High cease to exist among men. . . .
“Revelations came in days past, revelations come now, and revelations will continue as long as the earth shall stand. Those saints whose souls are attuned to the Infinite believe all that God has revealed; they need only be taught than any particular truth came by revelation, and they automatically believe it . . . those who are enlightened by the power of the Spirit know by spiritual instinct, without argument, without persuasion, without debate, that any authoritatively announced revelation came from the Divine Source.”7
● Members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are latter-day prophets, seers, and revelators. They continue to receive revelation to guide the Church. Their direction is “the will of the Lord, . . . the mind of the Lord, . . . the word of the Lord, . . . the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4). The remainder of this lesson discusses two the two major Official Declarations that have been given to the Church in the past 150 years, significantly altering its doctrines.
OFFICIAL DECLARATION 1
Circumstances of the Revelation
● The Saints were persecuted for their practice of plural marriage. The Federal Government passed laws and issued court decrees that made it illegal, then moved decisively to shut down the Church’s civil rights until it was abandoned.
● President Woodruff wrote in his journal, “Thus ends the year 1889. And the word of the Prophet Joseph Smith is beginning to be fulfilled that the whole nation would turn against Zion and make war upon the Saints. The nation has never been filled so full of lies against the Saints as today. 1890 will be an important year with the Latter-day Saints and the American nation.”8
● This was a time of grave crisis in the Church:
— President John Taylor had died in exile.
— Most prominent Church leaders were in prison or unable to lead effectively.
— Plural marriage was illegal and those practicing it were being prosecuted.
— Utah’s admission as a state seemed hopelessly deadlocked.
— The Church was disincorporated, tithing funds were seized, and Temple Square and other Church properties had been seized.
— Missionary work and temple work were greatly threatened.
“The Manifesto” is Received by Revelation
● On September 24, 1890, President Woodruff received a revelation, ending plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints.
● On October 6, 1890, the revelation was accepted by unanimous vote of the Church membership in general conference.
President Woodruff explained the circumstances of the revelation in a stake conference at Logan, Utah, on 1 November 1891:
“ ‘And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be Scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation’ [D&C 68:4].
“It is by that power that we have led Israel. By that power, President Young presided over and led the Church. By the same power, President John Taylor presided over and led the Church. And that is the way I have acted, according to the best of my ability, in that capacity. I do not want the Latter-day Saints to understand that the Lord is not with us and that He is not giving revelations to us; for He is giving us revelation, and will give us revelation until this scene is wound up.
“I have had some revelations of late, and very important ones to me, and I will tell you what the Lord has said to me. Let me bring your minds to what is termed the manifesto. The Lord has told me by revelation that there are many members of the Church throughout Zion who are sorely tried in their hearts because of that manifesto. . . .
“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. . . . All [temple] ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us, and leave our prophets and apostles and fathers free men, and the temples in the hands of the people, so that the dead may be redeemed. . . .
“. . . I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write. I laid it before my brethren—such strong men as Brother [George] Q. Cannon, Brother [Joseph] F. Smith, and the Twelve Apostles. I might as well undertake to turn an army with banners out of its course as to turn them out of a course that they considered to be right. These men agreed with me, and ten thousand Latter-day Saints also agreed with me. Why? Because they were moved upon by the Spirit of God and by the revelations of Jesus Christ to do it.”9
● Within a few years, the persecution of the nation against the Saints because of plural marriage ceased and its properties were returned.
OFFICIAL DECLARATION 2
Circumstances of the Revelation
Since the early days of the Latter-day Church, the practice of not ordaining black men to the priesthood became common in the Church. There was no specific revelation denying such men this blessing and, in fact, both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young ordained a few black men during their presidencies. It was a common belief among all Christian churches in those days that blacks should be denied full privileges because of their race. Since all converts to our Church came from those churches the belief concerning the status of blacks came with them and became common practice among the Saints.
How Such Beliefs Can Be Changed
● Acts 10 When the apostle Peter granted gospel blessings to the Gentiles, it followed a definite pattern:
— The Lord appeared to Cornelius, a Gentile, and encouraged him to seek the gospel.
— The Lord then appeared to Peter and told him that Gentiles were not “unclean.”
— Cornelius was instructed to go to Peter to obtain these blessings (Peter had the keys).
— Then, and only then, the change was made.
A Similar Pattern in the Revelation on Priesthood
● In the 1960s, faithful people in Africa were accepting the gospel even before missionaries were sent to them. They read the Book of Mormon and some Church pamphlets and were converted. They wrote to Church headquarters requesting the missionaries be sent to them. President David O. McKay spoke words of peace to them and promised that missionaries would be sent when the Lord commanded it. For the next 10 years, these converts waited patiently for that time to come.
The Revelation on Priesthood
● President Spencer W. Kimball, familiar with the requests of black people in Africa and elsewhere, became highly concerned with this situation and started petitioning the Lord for permission.
● “Perhaps few events have had a greater impact on the worldwide spread of the gospel than did the 1978 revelation received through President Spencer W. Kimball extending the priesthood to worthy males of all races. For some time, the General Authorities had discussed this topic at length in their regular temple meetings. In addition, President Kimball went frequently to the temple, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when he could be there alone, to plead for guidance. ‘I wanted to be sure,’ he explained.”10
● “On 1 June 1978 President Kimball met with his counselors and the Twelve and again brought up the possibility of conferring the priesthood upon worthy brethren of all races. He expressed the hope that there might be a clear answer received one way or the other. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve recalled, ‘At this point President Kimball asked the brethren if any of them desired to express their feelings and views as to the matter in hand. We all did so, freely and fluently and at considerable length, each person stating his views and manifesting the feelings of his heart. There was a marvelous outpouring of unity, oneness, and agreement in the council.”11
● After a two-hour discussion, President Kimball asked the group to unite in formal prayer and modestly suggested that he act as voice. He recalled:
“ ‘I told the Lord if it wasn’t right, if He didn’t want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I’d fight the world against it if that’s what He wanted. . . . But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it.”12
“President Gordon B. Hinckley was also at the historic meeting. He remembered: ‘There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. . . . Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. . . . Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. . . .
“ ‘Tremendous, eternal consequences for millions over the earth are flowing from that manifestation. . . . This has opened great areas of the world to the teaching of the everlasting gospel. This has made it possible that ‘every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.’
“We have cause to rejoice and to praise the God of our salvation that we have seen this glorious day.”13
1. History of the Church, 4:535–536.
2. History of the Church, 4:535.
3. History of the Church, 4:540.
4. Stand Ye in Holy Places , 132–33.
5. “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” Liahona, June 1981, 18.
6. Ensign, May 1977, 78.
7. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 1985, 475–77; 481.
8. Journal of Wilford Woodruff, 31 Dec. 1889.
9. “Remarks Made by President Wilford Woodruff,” Deseret Evening News, 7 Nov. 1891, 4; see also Official Declaration 1, Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto.
10. “‘News’ Interviews Prophet,” Church News, 6 Jan. 1979, 4.
11. Bruce R. McConkie, “The New Revelation on Priesthood,” Priesthood (1981), 27.
12. “‘News’ Interviews Prophet,” Church News, 6 Jan. 1979, 4.
13. Bruce R. McConkie, “The New Revelation on Priesthood,” Priesthood (1981), pp. 126-137.