Since this is my first Relief Society lesson at The Exponent, I thought I’d start by quickly describing my philosophy for teaching in the LDS church. Since this is a church with a lay ministry, in LDS classrooms everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. I believe when I’m teaching a lesson, even though I’ve prepared thoughts on the topic of the day, I don’t necessarily have the best insight into any of the points in the lesson. The class members are often my teachers, and I’m a learner in the lesson as much as they are. Which means I see myself as not so much a teacher but as a facilitator. My most important job is to ask good questions, give people time to think about them, and, as much as possible, ask good follow-up questions. I also generally avoid commenting on other people’s comments. Some teachers do well at asking questions that provoke insightful comments, but seem to feel obligated to follow up with their own commentary on them, which rarely adds much to the original comment. So I usually just say “thank you” when people are finished speaking.
So thank you for letting me soap box for a paragraph. Now, here are my thoughts on this lesson. (Note I’ve put quotes from the manual in italics, rather than explaining each time that they’re from Lorenzo Snow.)
First, it’s interesting to find this statement at the end of the lesson:
Teaching Help: “[Avoid] the temptation to cover too much material. … We are teaching people, not subject matter per se; and … every lesson outline that I have ever seen will inevitably have more in it than we can possibly cover in the allotted time” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Teaching and Learning in the Church,” Ensign, June 2007, 91).
I find this particularly relevant because this lesson uses many lengthy, and somewhat repetitive, passages. I would be selective in how I used them, not because their content is unimportant, but because I think it will be easy to lose your audience if several of these passages are read in full.
Now for the lesson.
Lorenzo Snow converted to Mormonism in his early 20s. He had been raised Baptist, which may explain why he is so passionate about baptism by immersion (Baptists are one of the few Protestant denominations to baptize by immersion). President Snow would certainly already have been baptized by immersion before he met Joseph Smith and like many converts may have wondered why adopting this new Christian faith required a second baptism. A clue to his thinking comes from his statements about following principles established by God.
“There are certain principles established of God, which being understood and observed, will put [us] in possession of spiritual knowledge, gifts, and blessings.”
The lesson goes on to list four scriptural examples of people who faithfully acted according to God’s (or God’s prophet’s) instructions and were blessed in doing so: Abel, the people of Noah, Joshua, and Naaman. If I were teaching the lesson, I would mention all four and look more closely at one of these, reading about the example directly from the scriptures.
To take Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-14), he was asked to perform the seemingly mundane task of washing seven times in the River Jordan. This is an archetype for the specific acts God asks us to perform in order to receive the blessing of communion with Him. Although I was raised in the church and took for granted for many years that acts like baptism and confirmation were needed, it’s actually not necessarily obvious why compliance with particular physical acts should be needed in order to find communion with God. Particularly in our modern world where spirituality is often viewed as individual thing that doesn’t require mediation by another person, the question of why certain religious rites are needed is an important one.
So I’d ask the class, why do you think God provides specific ordinances or rituals for us to participate in? What purposes do they serve? How have the ordinances you’ve participated in changed your life? How would your religious life be different without them? Have you participated in rituals outside of the church (such as college graduation or orientation/initiation into a club), and if so did it change how you felt or acted?
I think there are lots of true and interesting answers to these questions. Baptism serves the individual in marking a turning point in her life, and it serves the institution of the Church by providing a way to count how many souls are added to the fold. It’s interesting that even from the beginning, in the apostle Peter’s time, they were counting souls as they were added to the church (Acts 2:41).
President Snow stated “external works, or outward ordinances, under the Gospel dispensation, were inseparably connected with inward works, with faith and repentance.” He says that baptism is just as important as faith and repentance in “obtaining remission of sins.” One of the things I appreciate about Mormonism is that it takes the importance of the Day of Pentecost seriously (Acts 2:38: “Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”) – meaning, in Mormonism it’s seriously necessary to be baptized and confirmed to receive salvation – but the Church also offers a way to include all of humanity by providing baptism for the dead.
At this point you might ask if people have experiences with baptisms for the dead that have been meaningful for them.
The lesson next gives some lengthy quotes on why baptism by immersion is important versus baptism by sprinkling, and why confirmation must be done by the laying on of hands. I think for most Relief Societies in the Church these are settled questions and I wouldn’t spend much time on this part of the lesson.
The next point is that baptism and confirmation must be administered by the proper authority. This makes sense from an administrative point of view. For example an administrator from one university can’t confer a degree from any institution but her own, just like a priest can only administer rites in the church he or she is ordained in. Also, the administrator or priest is vested with authority by the institution they’re representing. President Snow’s point is that “The authority of administering in Gospel ordinances [was] lost for many centuries…[and] … I now bear testimony, having the highest assurance by revelation from God, …that an Angel from God has visited man in these last days and restored that which has long been lost, even the priesthood.” This is the crux of Mormonism. Without the loss of the authority vested in Peter, there wouldn’t be any need for restoration. But this also begs the question of why authority is important at all. Not all Christian denominations put such stock in authority.
How do we know priesthood authority is important in administering gospel ordinances? How do you personally feel about it? It’s important to remember that just as Peter was a conduit for the authority that brought souls into the church on the Day of Pentecost, today’s priesthood holders are conduits for divine power, and not repositories or embodiments of that power.
Finally, and I think most importantly, the lesson discusses how baptism and confirmation bless our daily lives. As President Eyring said in a 2008 General Conference talk,
“Every child of Heavenly Father born in the world is given at birth, as a free gift, the Light of Christ. You have felt that. It is the sense of what is right and what is wrong and what is true and what is false. That has been with you since your journey in life began. The fact that you were baptized and received the Holy Ghost is evidence that you chose to walk in the Light of Christ.
When you were confirmed a member of the Church, you were given the right to have the Holy Ghost as your companion. The Holy Ghost is a powerful source of light to recognize truth, to follow and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and to find your way back to God after this life.”
Baptism is important in itself, but particularly because it allows us to “obtain the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Ghost does many things, but ultimately it gives us light. Sometimes I imagine that light as a spotlight on a dark stage, and I’m supposed to center myself under it and not move. But there is no growth in that, and it’s hard to serve when you’re immobilized. So rather than imagining a stationery spotlight, I now imagine the Holy Ghost as a spotlight that moves, but only if I move first. This idea is supported by something President Harold B. Lee said:
“You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.”
This is what the Holy Ghost can do for us: illuminate the way forward, and show us new light and truth. Moroni said we will recognize that light because it “inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.” (Moroni 7:12)
I think it would be effective at this point to share a personal experience of when you felt the light inspiring you or making the way forward become clearer. Ask the class to do the same.
Emily U, fabulous job on your first lesson. 🙂
I like learning about how some of our early prophets might have taken truths they learned prior to their membership in the LDS church, and applied it once they got there. This seems like a perfect example to me. It also reminds me of how much I love the intertwining of things spiritual and physical. I am glad our faith recognizes that temporal/bodily things are also sacred and important. It would seem a shame otherwise.
Emily. I love your focus on ritual here…baptism is a great lesson to bring this up.
When I was a chaplain, we helped Catholic families decide on baptism when an infant was sick and might not live long. We always tried to counsel families when possible to baptize the infant outside the hospital, in their church, because it is primarily a ritual that welcomes a child (or convert) into the community rather than one necessary for salvation. I love that idea and have been thinking of how I want my son’s baptism (in three months) to be one that focuses both on the washing away of sins and his membership in the Church, as a community that he will love and care for and will do the same for him.
And, the Harold B. Lee quote is just all kinds of awesome. Can’t wait for many more lessons from you!
I love your response, generally, when I here about Mormons speaking about Catholic baptisms, its only with reference to how evil ( and I’ve herd the word abhorrent) the practice is. Its refreshing to finally here someone within Mormonism treat Catholic baptism with the respect that it deserves
Emily, thank you for that perspective on how the Catholic faith perceives baptism. I like the idea of it being a welcome into the church. In our church, the congregation also welcomes a newly baptized member by the “uplifted hand”. So I like this idea, as well as the idea (mentioned in the blog entry) of baptism being a choice to walk in the light of the holy ghost.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts and the direction you’re taking with your lesson. After spending 17 of the past 20 years in either YW or Primary I was just called to teach RS and this will be my first lesson. These insights are just what I need to give me some last-minute direction before Sunday.
Thank you Emily! I am so glad to have found your thoughts before giving this lesson tomorrow. Your suggestions helped me focus on a few of the most important principles of the lesson. I especially appreciated your work in selecting the quotes from Elder Eyring and Prsident Harold B Lee to support the principle of obtaining the Holy Ghost to give us light.
Thanks for a great lesson. I will definitely to using this to help me teach this one. Awesome ideas!
My mother just spoke on this topic in relief society class in my ward. She did a great job but I wish I could of shown her this as it would of helped her out!