History of the Lectures on Faith

by Jon Tandy

The Lectures on Faith were originally written in 1834 as part of a curriculum for the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio. They were included in the original (1835) Doctrine and Covenants printed in Kirtland, and constituted the "Doctrine" portion of that book.

The School of the Prophets was originally commanded to be organized in a revelation on December 27, 1832 (RDC 85:36a-b, 39-44; LDC 88:117-119,127-137). This school was organized by the Lord as part of the preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: "...that thereby they may be perfected in their ministry for the salvation of Zion...then cometh the day when the arm of the Lord shall be revealed in power..." (RDC 87:3b-d; LDC 90:7-10).

Three or four hundred of the leading men of the Church attended these classes from January through April, 1833 (Millenial Star 14:358). The classes also continued in November 1834 to March 1835, and November 1835 through March 1836 (ibid. 15:184,260,374,726).

These classes consisted of several topics of study, including English grammar, Greek, Hebrew, theology, and others. The Lectures, which are sometimes referred to as "Lectures on Faith" and "Lectures of Faith", were also called "lectures on theology" and constituted at least part of the theology studies in the School of the Prophets (ibid. 15:203-204).

In 1833 a mob in Independence, Missouri, had destroyed the printing press while the Book of Commandments was being printed. On September 24, 1834, the High Council at Kirtland voted "Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and F.G. Williams were appointed a committee 'to arrange the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ,' for the govenment of the church; with the provision that, 'These items are to be taken from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the revelations which have been given unto the church, up to this date, or shall be until such arrangements are made.' " (RLDS Church History, 1:523). In his history, Joseph Smith wrote that in January of 1835, "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" (ibid. 1:539, emphasis added).

Once the committee's work was finished and the Doctrine and Covenants was completed, a General Assembly was held in Kirtland on August 17, 1835. This assembly, whose actions are recorded in the RLDS Doctrine and Covenants section 108A, approved the Doctrine and Covenants as the law of the Church, and the "doctrine and covenants of their faith". Representatives from each of the priesthood quorums of the Church were present and approved the book in its entirety by a unanimous vote.

Of particular interest regarding the Lectures on Faith is the following statement: "Elder John Smith, taking the lead of the High Council in Kirtland, bore record that the revelations in said book [the "covenants"] were true, and that the lectures [Lectures on Faith] were judiciously arranged and compiled and were profitable for doctrine; whereupon the High Council of Kirtland accepted and acknowledged them as the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by a unanimous vote" (Messenger and Advocate, 1:161; RDC 108A:4d-e; emphasis added).

The Lectures on Faith have subsequently been removed from both the RLDS and LDS Doctrine and Covenants. The RLDS Doctrine and Covenants contained the Lectures until 1897, when they were deleted by the Board of Publication of the church without any particular reason given as far as this writer knows. F. Henry Edwards commented in 1977 that the Lectures "were not held to be on the same level as the revelations...their major value today is historical" (A New Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 1977, p. 43). The LDS Church History contains a statement regarding the Lectures: "They are not to be regarded as of equal authority in matters of doctrine with the revelations of God in the Doctrine and Covenants..." (Documentary History of the Church, 2:176, footnote).

While it may be agreed that the Lectures are not of the same weight as the revelations, it seems inconsistent that modern historians should conclude that "their major value today is historical"; when the early Saints regarded them as "profitable for doctrine". We recall that the qualifications of scripture are given in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17:

"And all scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

Many Latter Day Saints still consider the Lectures to be profitable for doctrine and thus, like the early Saints, they regard the Lectures as scripture. Occasionally the present Doctrine and Covenants is referred to as the "Book of Covenants" because the "doctrine" section has been removed. The Doctrine and Covenants currently provided by Price Publishing Company does include the Lectures on Faith.