Lectures on Faith
The document "Lectures on Faith" is a set of seven lectures on the doctrine and theology of the Latter Day Saint movement, first published as the doctrine portion of the 1835 edition of the canonical Doctrine and Covenants, but later removed from that work by both major branches of the faith. It was presented by Joseph Smith, Jr. to a group of elders in a course known as the "School of the Prophets" in the early winter of 1834-35 in Kirtland, Ohio.
Although authorship of the Lectures is uncertain, studies suggest that the actual wording was largely by Sidney Rigdon, with substantial involvement and approval by Joseph Smith, Jr. and possibly others. (See Dahl & Tate at 7–10, 16 n. 8.) Joseph Smith was substantially involved, both in their authorship in November 1834 and in their later preparation for publication in January 1835. (See History of the Church 2:169-170 and 2:180.)
The original title of each lecture was "Of Faith". It was not until 1876, in an edition of the Doctrine and Covenants edited by then Church Historian Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that the title was given as "Lectures on Faith".
Possibly the most famous quotation is from Lecture 6:7 which reads, "... A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; ..."
Status as part of the Latter Day Saint canon
The Lectures were published in 1835 as the Doctrine portion of the volume entitled Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God (better known simply as the Doctrine and Covenants). The Lectures were selected for that volume by a committee appointed on September 24, 1834 by a general assembly of the church to arrange the doctrines and revelations of the church into a single volume. That committee of Presiding Elders, consisting of Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, stated that the Lectures were included "in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation," and that the Lectures, together with the church-regulatory sections that followed, represent "our belief, and when we say this, humbly trust, the faith and principles of this society as a body." (See 1835 D&C, Preface.) Accordingly, the church body accepted the committee's compilation on August 17, 1835 as "the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by a unanimous vote." (History of the Church 2: 243-6).
Some Latter Day Saint denominations have subsequently removed the Lectures from the Doctrine and Covenants volume. They were removed from the Community of Christ version of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1897, although that denomination began publishing the Lectures in a separate volume in 1952. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints removed the Lectures from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition, with an explanation that the Lectures "were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons". (See Introduction, 1921 edition.) This is in contrast to the remaining pages of the original Doctrine and Covenants which are officially recognized by nearly all Latter Day Saint denominations as divine revelation given specifically to the church.
Mormon apologists give several reasons to explain why the Lectures were removed from the scriptural volumes of the church. According to Joseph Fielding Smith, at the time an Apostle-theologian in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the reasons were:
- "(a) They were not received as revelations by the prophet Joseph Smith.
- "(b) They are instructions relative to the general subject of faith. They are explanations of this principle but not doctrine.
- "(c) They are not complete as to their teachings regarding the Godhead. More complete instructions on the point of doctrine are given in section 130 of the 1876 and all subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants.
- "(d) It was thought by James E. Talmage, chairman, and other members of the committee who were responsible for their omission that to avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief, it would be better not to have them bound in the same volume as the commandments or revelations which make up the Doctrine and Covenants.’ " (as told to John William Fitzgerald, A Study of the Doctrine and Covenants, M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, page 344).
Brigham Young University's Dr. Thomas G. Alexander, Professor of History, has stated quite assertively in his controversial July–August 1980 "Sunstone" article, "The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine," that:
... Revision (of the Doctrine and Covenants) continued through July and August 1921, and the Church printed the new edition in late 1921. The committee proposed to delete the "Lectures on Faith" on the grounds that they were "lessons prepared for use in the School of the Elders, conducted in Kirtland, Ohio, during the winter of 1834-35; but they were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons." How the committee came to this conclusion is uncertain. The general conference of the Church in April 1835 had accepted the entire volume, including the Lectures, not simply the portion entitled "Covenants and Commandments," as authoritative and binding upon Church members. What seems certain, however, is that the interpretive exegesis of 1916 based upon the reconstructed doctrine of the Godhead had superseded the Lectures...
Other commentators have theorized that the Lectures represented official church doctrine in 1835, but that by 1897 or 1921 when the work was decanonized by the major Latter Day Saint denominations, the doctrine concerning the Godhead had changed, and the Lectures were no longer generally consistent accepted doctrines. For instance, in Lecture 5, paragraph 2, it defines the Father as a "personage of spirit, glory and power." Whereas in section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 22 states that "the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's." In addition, the Father and Son are said to possess the same mind, "which mind is the Holy Spirit" (Lecture 5, paragraph 2). The Holy Spirit is not a personage, as defined at the beginning of paragraph 2: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things...They are the Father and Son." This could cause confusion when compared with Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants: "The Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit." Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants was added in the 1876 edition and hence co-existed with the Lectures on Faith.
One theologian in the LDS Church praised the Lectures as follows:
- "In my judgment, it is the most comprehensive, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language - that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying what kind of being God is. It was written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the spirit of inspiration. It is, in effect, eternal scripture; it is true." (Bruce R. McConkie, lecture at Brigham Young University).
Teachings from the Lectures on Faith
"We here observe that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and that in him every good gift and every good principle dwell; and that he is the Father of lights; in him the principle of faith dwells independently, and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings center for life and salvation."
"We have now shown how it was that the first thought ever existed in the mind of any individual that there was such a Being as a God, who had created and did uphold all things: that it was by reason of the manifestation which he first made to our father Adam, when he stood in his presence, and conversed with him face to face, at the time of his creation.
"Let us here observe, that after any portion of the human family are made acquainted with the important fact that there is a God, who has created and does uphold all things, the extent of their knowledge respecting his character and glory will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until, like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face.
"We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based which excited the inquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God; and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this inquiry, in the first instance, in their minds. It was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers, this testimony having aroused their minds to inquire after the knowledge of God; the inquiry frequently terminated, indeed always terminated when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries and eternal certainty."
"But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long-suffering; for without the idea of unchangeableness in the character of the Deity, doubt would take the place of faith. But with the idea that he changes not, faith lays hold upon the excellencies in his character with unshaken confidence, believing he is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, and that his course is one eternal round."
"...no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life, the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege.
"And lastly, but not less important to the exercise of faith in God, is the idea that he is love;"
"As the Son partakes of the fullness of the Father through the Spirit, so the saints are, by the same Spirit, to be partakers of the same fullness, to enjoy the same glory; for as the Father and the Son are one, so, in like manner, the saints are to be one in them. Through the love of the Father, the mediation of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, they are to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ."
"It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him."
"But those who have not made this sacrifice to God do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for ...where doubt and uncertainty are there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time; so that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence; ...and where faith is weak the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations, and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them."
"...the glory which the Father and the Son have is because they are just and holy beings; and that if they were lacking in one attribute or perfection which they have, the glory which they have never could be enjoyed by them, for it requires them to be precisely what they are in order to enjoy it; and if the Saviour gives this glory to any others, he must do it in the very way set forth in his prayer to his Father—by making them one with him as he and the Father are one. In so doing he would give them the glory which the Father has given him; and when his disciples are made one with the Father and Son, as the Father and the Son are one, who cannot see the propriety of the Saviour's saying—'The works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.' (John 14:12)
"These teachings of the Saviour most clearly show unto us the nature of salvation, and what he proposed unto the human family when he proposed to save them—that he proposed to make them like unto himself, and he was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings;"
- Noel Reynolds, “Case for Sidney Rigdon as Author of the Lectures on Faith,” Journal of Mormon History 31/2 (Fall 2005), 1–41.
- Lectures on Faith, Lecture 2, paragraphs 2 and 54–56
- Lectures on Faith, Lecture 3, paragraphs 21, 23, and 24
- Lectures on Faith, Lecture 5, paragraph 3
- Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6, paragraphs 8 and 12
- Lectures on Faith, Lecture 7, paragraphs 15 and 16
- Larry E. Dahl and Charles D. Tate, eds., The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective. (1990) Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University.
- Leland H. Gentry, "What of the Lectures on Faith?" 19 BYU Studies 5–19 (Fall 1978).
- Wayne A. Larsen, Alvin C. Rencher, and Tim Layton, "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints." 20 BYU Studies 249 (Spring 1980), app. E ("Lectures on Faith")
- Alan J. Phipps, "The Lectures on Faith: An Authorship Study." Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1977.
- Richard S. Van Wagoner, Steven C. Walker, and Allen D. Roberts., "The 'Lectures on Faith': A Case Study in Decanonization." 20 Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 71-77 (Fall 1987).