Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 102

/ Doctrine & Covenants 102 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-8

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

The high council in Kirtland was unique because the First Presidency also presided over it as a stake presidency. As the first high council in the Church, the Kirtland high council was established before wards came into existence. Today the Church has a different system in which a stake presidency presides over a group of high priests that constitute the high council for that stake. Modern high councils assist stake presidencies in carrying out the Lord’s work in the various wards of each stake. The Kirtland high council was established as “standing council” (D&C 102:3), meaning that it was responsible for a specific geographical area designated as a stake but consisting largely of branches. Beginning with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, traveling councils not limited by any geographic area were established by later revelations (D&C 107:23). Using terminology common in the Church today, we refer to standing councils as local or area authorities and those councils with no specific geographic responsibility as general authorities. In addition to a high council, section 102 also refers to a “bishop’s council” (D&C 102:2).

 

The establishment of councils in the early Church was an important step toward disseminating the divine power first given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Today, councils remain one of the most important methods for receiving revelation in the Church. Stephen L Richards, a member of the First Presidency under David O. McKay, taught:

 

As I conceive it, the genius of our Church government is government through councils. The Council of the Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, the Council of the Stake Presidency . . . the Council of the Bishopric. . . . I have had enough experience to know the value of councils. . . . I see the wisdom, God’s wisdom, in creating councils: to govern his Kingdom. In the spirit under which we labor, men can get together with seemingly divergent views and far different backgrounds, and under the operation of that spirit, by counseling together, they can arrive at an accord. 1

 

1. Stephen L Richards, in Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 86.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 9-12

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Verses 9–12 explain the procedures for holding a Church membership council. As noted in Doctrine and Covenants 102:2, these councils convene to deal with difficult cases that cannot be resolved by a bishop’s council. Most repentance is handled between an individual, the Lord, and sometimes those who have been affected by the individual’s sins. More serious sins are resolved with the assistance of a bishop, who holds the keys to act as a judge in Israel. Church membership councils, which have also been known as Church courts or Church disciplinary councils, deal with sins for which a membership council is required and usually involve a person who has made temple covenants or who holds an important position of trust in the Church. 2

 

Church membership councils are generally held for three reasons. First, they are held to help protect others. As the General Handbook states, “Sometimes a person poses a physical or spiritual threat. Predatory behaviors, physical harm, sexual abuse, substance abuse, fraud, and apostasy are some of the ways this can occur. With inspiration, a bishop or stake president acts to protect others when someone poses a threat in these and other serious ways (see Alma 5:59–60).” 3

 

Second, a Church membership council may be held to help a person access the redeeming power of Jesus Christ through repentance. “Through this process, he or she may again become clean and worthy to receive all of God’s blessings.” 4 When serious sin has occurred, these councils can help individuals come to terms with what has occurred, use the power of Jesus Christ to overcome their sins, and repair the damage done to themselves and the important relationships in their lives. These councils are conducted in the spirit of love—every involved individual seeks to do what is best for the individual who has fallen into transgression.

 

Finally, Church membership councils are held to protect the integrity of the Church. “Restricting or withdrawing a person’s Church membership may be necessary if his or her conduct significantly harms the Church (see Alma 39:11). The integrity of the Church is not protected by concealing or minimizing serious sins—but by addressing them.”

 

2. For a list of situations that require the convening of a Church membership council, see General Handbook, 32.6.1. For a list of situations in which a Church membership council is not normally necessary, see General Handbook, 32.6.4.1.

 

3. General Handbook, 32.2.1.

 

4. General Handbook, 32.2.2.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 13-18

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

According to the instructions given in section 102, when a Church membership council is convened, high councilors draw lots numbered from one to twelve. Those who draw even-numbered lots are asked to represent the needs of the accused, ensuring that the individual is treated fairly in the council. This does not mean that those who draw even lots act as defense attorneys and those who draw odd-numbered lots act as prosecutors. In these councils, all who are present are simply seeking for the truth and for the best way forward for the accused. This is another procedure followed by councils today found in example of the councils held in the early Church.

 

Joseph Smith explained:

 

It was not the order of heaven in ancient councils to plead for and against the guilty as in our judicial courts (so called) but that every counselor when he arose to speak, should speak precisely according to evidence and according to the teaching of the spirit of the Lord, that no counselor should attempt to screen the guilty when his guilt was manifest[.] That the person accused before the high council had a right to one half the members of the council to plead his cause, in order that his case might be fairly presented before the president that a decision might be rendered according to truth and righteousness.[i]

 

When it came to the rights of the accused, Joseph explained, “In all cases, the accuser and the accused have a perfect right to speak for themselves before the council.”[ii] In most cases, when individuals appear before a Church membership council, they have already spoken with their bishop and stake president. The council is held to allow individuals to make a full accounting of their sins and to allow the council members to use their collective wisdom to assist in finding the best way forward for the individual.

 

[i] Minutes, 17 February 1834, p. 30, JSP.

 

[ii] Minutes, 17 February 1834, p. 30, JSP.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 19-23

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Once the evidence has been presented in a Church membership council, the councilors and the stake presidency discuss the case and seek to “obtain the mind of the Lord by revelation” (D&C 102:23). In most councils, those present—especially the presiding officers—will make the outcome a matter of prayer. When revelation comes to the presiding officer, members of the council are asked to offer their sustaining vote or engage in further discussion.

 

Church membership councils have three possible outcomes: individuals remain in good standing with the Church, they have formal membership restrictions placed on them, or they have their Church membership withdrawn. In cases in which members remain in good standing, the members may be deemed innocent or may have already repented sincerely. Thus, they do not require further council actions. At times members are kept in good standing but are asked by the council to continue counseling with their bishop or stake president.[i]

 

In other situations, leaders may find it necessary to formally restrict a person’s membership. This outcome is usually associated with sins that are very serious but do not require a withdrawal of Church membership. Membership restrictions could include asking the individual to not attend the temple, exercise priesthood authority, partake of the sacrament, or hold a calling in the Church. These restrictions usually remain in effect for at least one year, though they may be in place longer. At the end of the period of probation, the council reconvenes to determine if membership restrictions should be removed or continued.[ii]

 

In the most serious cases, a person’s membership in the Church may be withdrawn. This outcome is required in extreme cases in which murder, plural marriage, or incest may be involved. When a person is judged to be a danger to others or to have committed a very serious sin, or when a person does not demonstrate repentance for serious sins or commits serious sins that harm the Church, their membership records may also be withdrawn. Those who have had their membership withdrawn may be considered for baptism and readmission to the Church after one year and after a Church membership council has met to consider their repentance.[iii] Withdrawing an individual’s Church membership is intended not as a punishment but as a measure to protect the vulnerable and to withdraw the expectations of sacred covenants from a person who is not able to keep them.

 

[i] See General Handbook, 32.11.1, 32.11.2.

 

[ii] General Handbook, 32.11.3.

 

[iii] General Handbook, 32.11.4.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 24-34

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Verses 30–32 were added in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants under the direction of Joseph Smith. Joseph called the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835, making it necessary to amend these instructions. The decision to add these verses effectively places the Quorum of the Twelve over stake high councils in authority. As instructed in verse 31, a decision made by a lower council can be appealed to a higher council.

 

A later revelation specifies that “the most important business of the church, and the most difficult cases of the church, inasmuch as there is not satisfaction upon the decision of the bishop or judges, it shall be handed over and carried up unto the council of the church, before the Presidency of the High Priesthood” (D&C 107:78). For instance, “the First Presidency has final authority over all Church membership restrictions and withdrawal.”[i] A later revelation also specify that there is no appeal beyond the authority of the First Presidency, declaring, “And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters. There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church” (D&C 107:80–81).

 

[i] General Handbook, 32.11.6.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)