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What Subject Matter and by What Method Shall the Church Preach and Teach?

R. S. Salyards, Sr.
Richard S. Salyards, Sr.
Chruch Secretary
(1896–1926)

Two things, important things, are necessary to the life of the Church: It must grow from within that it may have power to reach out. It must bring in new blood, essential to its strength. Nature grows from within and from without. A static state is evidence of lack of life; a nonmoving, a nondeveloping body of people looks backward and becomes sterile. A stagnant pond turns green with unwholesome elements for the reason that clear, flowing water does not keep it active and moving. It is possible for us to look backward and assert the claim of being "the restoration," and like the Jews, fail to "bring forth the fruits of the kingdom." We must "look and live."

We have stated that the Savior was the great Teacher, the greatest, most scientific Teacher. Repetition is the mother of study—drill, drill, drill, is a method used by our public school instructors in teaching mathematics, language, and other subjects. It is in evidence in the revelations from which we are quoting. We therefore continue that method; we have excellent authority and precedent for thus doing.

Hearken and hear and behold what I, the Lord God, shall say unto you, even Jesus Christ your Redeemer, the life and the light of the world . . . you are called of me to preach my gospel; to lift up your voice as with the sound of a trump, both long and loud, and cry repentance unto a crooked and perverse generation, preparing the way of the Lord for his second coming (Doctrine and Covenants 33; italics added).

Section 34 is to two members of the Presidency, giving instructions similar in import to the foregoing. Section 35 to the Bishop of the Church directs that men

shall be ordained and sent forth to preach the everlasting gospel among the nations, crying repentance, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation, etc.

The present generation certainly is as "untoward" as that in the days of our fathers; the instruction therefore applies now.

It should be noted that the Book of Mormon and the Holy Scriptures are given for the instruction of the Church. Do we hear very much preaching concerning the divinity of the Book of Mormon, and from its teachings, in these our days? It is a wonderful witness for the work; it recites very valuable things in connection with the preaching of the gospel and the developments for good among the Jaredite, the Nephite, and the Lamanite people. Possibly many have failed to note the very great and wonderful work done among the peoples named. At times the whole people were practically converted to the Lord and great manifestations of spiritual power and grace were bestowed. Except in the days of Enoch and of Melchisedec it would seem that greater work occurred among those people than is written of the work done on the Eastern Continent; the record so indicates.

As early as 1832 the Lord made this statement to the Church:

And now I give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life; for you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ; and the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit; and every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit, cometh unto God, even the Father; and the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world: and the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin ...

And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received, which vanity and unbelief hath brought the whole Church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all; and they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written, that they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom.... Blessed are ye inasmuch as you receive these things ... with this commandment, that you remain steadfast in your minds (Doctrine and Covenants 83; italics added).

The Church received the celestial law, section 42:

... the elders, priests, and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fullness of the gospel; and they shall observe the church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings as they shall be directed by the Spirit; and the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith, and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach (Doctrine and Covenants 42:5; italics added).

Thou shalt ask, and my Scriptures [Inspired Version] shall be given.... And I give unto you a commandment, that then ye shall teach them unto all men; for they shall be taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people (Doctrine and Covenants 42:15).

There has been and is much of teaching that in a measure has followed the vogue of the sectarian world; for instance, much of preaching that has concerned itself with mere ethical teaching, precepts of morality and general refinement, which in itself is all very well, but which largely has not been underpinned and based upon the fundamental and other principles of the gospel. Much of this teaching and preaching has been concerning philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics—the social sciences, general human progress, etc., and from which one could get no clear distinction between sectarian teaching and the gospel as set forth in the word. Secular education, acquirement of scholastic degrees have also been very greatly overstressed. Bear in mind that the writer is not opposed to education, learning, and all that accompanies true progress. But it should be remembered that the Church of Jesus Christ has its distinctive message, its own specific work to do; also that the preaching of and obedience to the gospel is the only means by which the hearts of men can be brought into that faith and harmony of action—that unity of purpose necessary to reach the religious, social, and economic ends designed in the redemption of Zion.

The gospel is the gospel of truth and of power; by it only will men become men of strong faith, men who have confidence in God and in his purposes. The straight and clear road to success in the great endeavor of building a community based upon right ideals, a Zion society, is by obedience, by conversion to the gospel and kingdom of God. We repeat it, the Church is sent into the world, is established, to declare the gospel. The Lord said to his disciples:

Wherefore, seek not the things of this world; but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6: 38, Inspired Version; italics added).

And these later instructions:

Ye shall do according to that which is written (Doctrine and Covenants 23: 6).

Behold, I say unto you, Were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking unto the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now; but, behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I require at their hands.... And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom, otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself (Doctrine and Covenants 102:2).

Some of the sectarian world have become weary of so much that is purely literary, educational, social, and economic in its pulpits; we could present much of pulpit protestation to this effect. They are demanding more of the spiritual and other Bible teaching of the prophets and of Jesus and the apostles.

There is a proper place and time for the teaching of secular learning. It should be used of course where it confirms the word or assists in its presentation; but one cannot accomplish the work designed by our spiritual message except by preaching and teaching the sacred word. The pulpit is set apart for spiritual teaching and preaching. That is its function. Light, power to convey and seal upon the mind and heart the teaching of the word, are granted when it is done in the devotion of study and prayer and earnest seeking for truth. To receive of God, that is the greatest education. It enlightens and quickens the mind, the soul of man. We cannot meet the requirements of our own natures and bring to others the wisdom, light, and power of the divine word only as we develop in close attention to its instructions and admonitions. And, let it be said here, the word of the Lord is very noble, strong, true, and edifying in its content. This is true of the three books, and especially in meeting present-day problems does it distinguish the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. They contain the principles of eternal life. They cannot be matched by any secular literature. It contains much that is fine; but the word of the Lord is more than all that, and it is sacred and very edifying and powerful because it has its seat in the bosom of God, who bears witness to its greatness and power. The word is an inexhaustible mine of wisdom and truth. It has been preached through the centuries, but has never been and never can be exhausted or drained of its potency to heal and save the souls of men.

Here is significant, specific injunction to the ministry:

Again I say, hearken ye elders of my church whom I have appointed: ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit; and ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken (Doctrine and Covenants 43:4).

Men have said that the words "not sent forth to be taught," tended to cause men to become self-sufficient; to claim wisdom merely on the basis of being called. But there is no warrant in this language for egotism, presumption, or unwarranted claim to wisdom. All are instructed by this and other commandments to teach under the power of the Spirit, upon the basis of sanctifying themselves and being "taught from on high." There is, however, admonition to the effect that the sacred word and the Holy Spirit are to be the source of teaching, not the theories and methods of men, however cultured and gifted. Note this from the same section:

Hearken ye to these words, behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Treasure these things up in your hearts, and let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds. Be sober. Keep all my commandments (Doctrine and Covenants 43:8).

Hearken [note the word], 0 ye people of my church, and ye elders, listen together, and hear my voice while it is called today, and harden not your hearts.... And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be A STANDARD FOR MY PEOPLE and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me (Doctrine and Covenants 45:2; emphasis added).

The word, the covenant of God, "the everlasting gospel," is sufficient in the wisdom of God to accomplish His purpose.

If we substitute anything else, in the way of unnecessary, outward ceremonial, sensuous display, with a view to impress people with demonstration of the outward—if we rely upon and institute externalism in form and pomp and ceremony, we indicate lack of confidence in the provisions of the eternal God; we substitute our human, carnal conceptions for what he has instituted.

It is to be noted that according to ecclesiastical history in the days of apostasy of the early Christian church, as the church declined in spirituality and simplicity, it increased in outward display, in formalism, in ceremonials, in decorations of its altars and robing of its priesthood—in processions, lighting of candles and tapers, use of censers with incense, in extreme use of vocal and instrumental music, in chants and recessionals and other formulas designed to impress the multitude—instead of instructing them to discern the truth and to act intelligently.

Is the Church of today, "this Church," our Church adopting and making use of any activities that tend to the detriment of its service—for instance sermonets, to shorten the preaching service for admission of plays and like features—are such things in evidence anywhere. The writer does not object to proper and elevating entertainment—presentations in keeping with the spirit of the work; but he does urge the exercise of care that the spirit of our work be not intruded upon. He has seen plays and banquets at sessions attended by hundreds, followed by Sunday morning and other prayer services attended by but very few.

He has noted carefully results of certain programs, that they do not convey the spiritual power and light that accompanies the ministerial and class teaching of the word and other sound matter. Men are called and ordained to preach and teach the word. We should have care that we carry on in all respects according to the many instructions already cited. Proper entertainment for the young and others has its place and time. The Spirit of God will influence the heart and mind of the young as nothing else can do; we have experienced it ourselves in assemblies where it has been heeded; the writer has noted the power of the Spirit to call out and lead our young people. It is the only influence that will do for them the work needed to be realized. Worldly means, display, sensationalism, mere emotionalism, enthusiasm, artificiality—the world can outdo us very greatly in all this; we cannot compete with it. To make our homes, our churches places where the Lord will come and abide with us, is to hold our people in this day of sensationalism, great evils, general worldliness, the craze for moviedom, with its follies and immoralities—in this day of Sunday sports, night clubs, dance halls, and manifold dangers and demoralization.

St. Paul in his work among the Gentiles, who had been called out of idolatry and its seductive sins and allurements, wrote thus to his converts, who lived amidst the imaginative Greek and Roman pleasure-loving peoples:

Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6: 17).

This article originally appeared in The Saints' Herald, August 27, 1938.

 
 

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