This article is intended to help readers better utilize the new Teaching in the Savior's Way manual that was recently released.
When we talk about doctrine we sometimes use the word without being able to readily define what it is. So let’s define it. Doctrine is both plural and singular. Doctrine can refer to all of the teachings of the gospel of Christ or it can refer to just one point or principle from the set of teachings.
When we teach in the Church, it is important to know whether we are teaching the doctrine—or teachings given us by Christ—or if it is a custom or socially accepted practice or belief developed within the LDS community. The first will lead us to salvation while the second can change overnight and has nothing to do with salvation.
As the Church grows, there may come many innocent misconceptions about Church history, practices, and beliefs. The teacher needs to understand the pure doctrines of the gospel of Christ so misconceptions can be set aside for the life-saving doctrines of the gospel.
As mentioned in the manual, the doctrines of the gospel, taught in their purity, changes lives. Change is what teaching is all about. If we or our students leave class each week without any hint of change in our lives, then we have all missed out on a precious opportunity.
Mind you, the burden of change is not all on the teacher’s shoulders. Students must come seeking this change. It is the teacher’s responsibility to prepare and present in such a way as to invite and show the way for improvement and offer suggestions for a deeper understanding of the doctrines of the gospel.
Center Your Teaching on the Doctrine of Christ
President Boyd K. Packer said, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.” The word of God has power. Its power lies in its ability, with the help of the Spirit, to open the eyes of our understanding, to enlarge our capacities, to change our attitudes and the desires of our heart.
The power of God lies in His words, not His physical strength. He declares and it comes to pass. He commands and the universe obeys. The words His prophets have recorded as scripture can teach us and show us how to become like Christ. They lead us to repent and to love more purely, more deeply, more completely. President Ezra Taft Benson said this:
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
“Human nature can be changed, here and now,” said President McKay, and then he quoted the following:
“‘You can change human nature. No man who has felt in him the Spirit of Christ even for half a minute can deny this truth. …
“‘You do change human nature, your own human nature, if you surrender it to Christ. Human nature can be changed here and now. Human nature has been changed in the past. Human nature must be changed on an enormous scale in the future, unless the world is to be drowned in its own blood. And only Christ can change it. (Ensign, Nov. 1985, “Born of God”)
This is the power we, as teachers, must rely on. This is the source of strength we turn to in our teaching. Only Christ can make the needed changes within each of us. Only His doctrine taught in purity and correctly can begin to affect those changes.
This creates a challenge for the teacher. Each week we have a different topic and different subject matter to cover and consider. The doctrine doesn’t change each week, just the subject matter, the stories, and the setting for the lesson. It is the challenge for the teacher to look at the ever-changing background of the lesson and learn to apply it to the eternal principles of the gospel. To do this, we must learn to see how the doctrines of Christ fit into our everyday lives at all times and in all seasons of our lives.
The manual asks us to ponder this question, “How will those I teach be blessed as they live the doctrine of Christ?” Try to see each of Christ’s teachings in the light of the blessings we receive when we live the teachings. The sacrifices we need to make will vary for each individual, but the blessings are always worth the price of obedience. Focusing on the rewards, and not the punishments, will act as a better enticement to live the principles we need to teach.
Teach Within the context of the Plan of Salvation
The point of mortality is to bridge the distance of where we were as spirit children of our Father in Heaven and the immortal glory we all wanted when we lived with Him. Mortality is an essential step. But mortality includes that pesky veil of forgetfulness.
When we teach we need to remember that each point of doctrine or principle we teach is just a small piece of the overall tapestry we call the plan of salvation. Teaching students to see the big picture will help them see how individual doctrines fit into the grand scheme of God’s plan for us.
No doctrine stands alone, apart from all other doctrinal points. All doctrines are related to other parts of the plan of salvation. Together they create a lifestyle and way of thinking that will give us the power and motivation to return to our heavenly home.
This can be a difficult thing to accomplish when we are teaching youth or newer members of the Church. Their understanding of the overall plan of salvation may not be complete, or they may have misconceptions that you, as the teacher, don’t know about. This is why we need to listen carefully as we present the lesson. We need to check for understanding and encourage our class members to find ways to put the doctrines of the gospel into action in their lives.
Use the Scriptures and the Words of Latter-day Prophets
There are many great and motivating speakers in the Church. There are many good scholars and writers. All are producing vast amounts of material for us to consume. Reading their material, like the article you are now reading, may be helpful in gaining perspective or an understanding of the doctrines of the gospel. But these are but the dessert in the gospel banquet. The main course, that which is designed to give us sustaining nourishment, are the scriptures and the words of the prophets.
All questions are settled by an appeal to the written word of God, and the writings of the living prophet. Even the living apostles turn to the First Presidency when questions arise as to a point of order in the kingdom of God. What the living prophet teaches is what we live by.
It is important to promote searching the scriptures and reading the sermons of the prophets. The Saints need to continually be reminded that all questions of doctrine can be settled through these two sources. And they need to be encouraged to seek answers for themselves in these places.
If you want a good example of someone who relied heavily on the written word to teach and from which to learn doctrine, you only need turn to the Savior. He was constantly quoting the written scriptures to make his points to those who challenged him or asked him questions. He knew the scriptures inside and out. Joseph Smith was the same way. There, that is a second great example of someone who used the scriptures and the words of the prophets.
Help Learners Liken the Scriptures to Themselves
We are taught in the scriptures that all things testify of Christ. One of our challenges in life is to learn to see how all things around us can teach us and testify to us of the existence and reality of God. We need to learn to see types and shadows of gospel principles in the natural world around us and in the events that take place in our personal lives and the lives of those with whom we come in contact.
By learning to see spiritual testimonies and lessons in the life and world around us, we learn to remember Christ each and every day of the week, for we see evidence of His work and love all around us in all that happens. This is part of what it means to liken the scriptures unto ourselves.
This process of learning to liken what happens in the scriptures to ourselves, or to see our lives in the stories and teachings we read in the scriptures, brings the scriptures to life. They begin to have a more relevant impact on how we think and act each day.
Help Learners Find Scriptural Truths
One of the reasons some people are reluctant to read scriptures in class is their fear of the unknown. They have no idea what will be expected of them once they read their requested verses. They aren’t usually given any time to silently consider an answer before being expected to offer an opinion.
One way to help people feel more comfortable about reading a passage of scripture is to give some guidance on what you want them to find in that passage. For example, instead of asking someone to read passage XYZ then springing a surprise question on them, ask them to read the passage and look for examples of how such-and-such principle is being taught.
Be careful not to give them the answer you are looking for before they read the passage, as that basically nullifies the point of them reading the passage. But they need a general framework before they begin so they know what to look for.
This is a great way to teach people how to read the scriptures for understanding. When we learn to ask a question then start reading the scriptures, our mind automatically begins to hunt for its answer. It might be helpful to have the question written out somewhere to remind the reader what they are looking for. It will also help the rest of the class keep the goal of the passage in mind as they listen for the answer to be read.
Try to learn how to teach your class members how to ask questions about gospel topics when they turn to the scriptures. This takes practice. The question needs to be focused enough to be able to give a satisfactory answer, but not so specific that it defeats the point of asking the question.
For example, if you are studying the Word of Wisdom, the questions should be about the principle that should guide is in what we eat, how often, or how we treat our bodies. If we ask something that is too specific, like how much meat is okay to consume, then we have gone beyond the scope of the Word of Wisdom, and we just simply don’t have answers to such questions. The counsel in the scripture says to eat meat sparingly. That is basically all it says. At this point, each person has to turn to the Lord and ask what is right for their circumstances.
The object of teaching in this way is to help each class member learn to seek guidance through the Spirit. We all need to learn to live by personal revelation. Learning to ask questions then seek for answers will help us in our personal quests to learn to follow the Spirit’s direction.